Some states have statutes making it mandatory for employers to conduct harassment training (e.g., California and Connecticut).  But even in states like Ohio where there is no particular statute mandating such training, employers should view it as mandatory.  The courts and agencies unanimously agree that employers must have a harassment prevention plan, and also that an essential element of such a plan is training.  What should this training look like?  It’s a good idea to look at the statutory requirements in those states with training statutes.  In California, for example, such training must occur every two years (for supervisors) and should cover federal and state laws prohibiting harassment and should include practical examples on identifying, preventing, and responding to harassment, discrimination and retaliation.

A new amendment to the California statute should give all employers pause – not just those in California.  Yesterday, California Governor Jerry Brown signed AB 2053, requiring employers to also cover “abusive conduct” in their harassment prevention training.  The amendment defines abusive conduct as “conduct of an employer or employee in the workplace, with malice, that a reasonable person would find hostile, offensive, and unrelated to an employer’s legitimate business interests. Abusive conduct may include repeated infliction of verbal abuse, such as the use of derogatory remarks, insults, and epithets, verbal or physical conduct that a reasonable person would find threatening, intimidating, or humiliating, or the gratuitous sabotage or undermining of a person’s work performance. A single act shall not constitute abusive conduct, unless especially severe and egregious.”

Sound familiar?  Looks like a classic definition of bullying to me.  While bullying in and of itself is not illegal, it’s a subject that many are clamoring over and hoping for a legal intervention.  What is a proactive employer to do?  Prohibit bullying in the workplace.  Not only because it’s the right thing to do (duh), but because it’s a form of disrespectful behavior that has tangible negative consequences for the workplace (think, for example, of lowered employee engagement, productivity, and loyalty).  And train on your no-bullying stance as part of your harassment prevention training.

Hat tip to Allison West of Employment Practices Specialists for the update.