CA Employers & AB 1825 Trainers: Don’t Get Caught Unaware and Unprepared

by Oct 13, 2014


If you are a sexual harassment trainer, an HR professional, an equal employment officer, a manager of labor relations or anyone managing workplace issues, AB 2053 affects you.

AB 1825 currently requires employers with 50 or more employees/independent contractors to provide interactive sexual harassment prevention training to all California supervisors. A brand new law, AB 2053 goes into effect on January 1, 2015. It adds to the mandatory subjects that must be covered in AB 1825 training – a discussion of “abusive conduct” must be included. The new law 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.  [It] 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.”

It also specifies that a single act will not constitute abusive conduct unless it is especially severe or egregious.

Are abusive conduct and workplace bullying the same thing?

Yes. But…

The definition of abusive conduct in AB 2053 aligns with other definitions of workplace bullying in other proposed laws. In addition, when I do trainings on workplace bullying I offer three different “buckets” of bullying behavior: aggressive communication, humiliation and manipulation. Needless to say I was pleased to see those three items in the definition of abusive conduct used in AB 2053.

However, the definition of abusive conduct in AB 2053 does not match the definitions often used in academic research. Academic research on workplace bullying has found bullying isn’t malicious. In fact it has found that most often bullies don’t realize just how terrible their behavior is until someone points it out to them in a way they understand. Often workplace bullies know they are perceived as mean or harsh, but they think their style is for the greater good until someone can get through to them and explain otherwise.

Not to mention, maliciousness of the behavior doesn’t matter. The bill analysis, located here, describes what I mean (and interestingly, uses workplace bullying and abusive conduct interchangeably):

Writing in support of the measure, the San Diego Chapter of the American Society of Training & Development and the National Workplace Bullying Coalition, are also suggesting a revision to the language of the bill, suggesting that the word “malice” be removed from the definition of “abusive conduct” arguing that it is not possible to determine the prevalence of intentional behavior, and because intention doesn’t matter – they argue, if one individual finds another’s behavior hostile or offensive, it should be stopped whether the behavior was intended or not.

Does AB 2053 stop workplace bullying?

Yes. But…

AB 2053 does not require anything other than sexual harassment trainers mention abusive conduct in their trainings. It doesn’t mention the amount of time that should be allocated to abusive conduct over the course of the mandatory two-hours, what kind of training materials are required, or what exactly a trainer should be discussing as it relates to abusive conduct.

Thus the legislation seemed like an easy, low cost to implement, law. In fact Lorena Gonzalez’s office asked me to provide an example of PowerPoint slides that a sexual harassment trainer might include in their AB 1825 training to cover the new AB 2053 material. They wanted to pass them around the Assembly to show that all it takes is a few minutes to add in some information – no major cost for a trainer, thus no major costs passed on to employers who pay the trainers.

But, according to a really great article I found here, including malice in the definition of abusive conduct offers some guidance to sexual harassment trainers and employers, in that trainers should advise supervisors not to act impulsively, and perhaps even provide tools for working through heightened emotions. The article also suggests that supervisors be educated on how to handle peer-to-peer bullying.

The article goes on to say that the definition’s inclusion of “gratuitous sabotage or undermining of a person’s work performance” means that training should also include the difference between being a tough boss and bullying. Here’s an example of the differences:

Bullying managers and supervisors often use performance evaluations as a tool to bully, citing poor performance when there really isn’t any. This counts as “undermining a person’s work performance” so HR is going to have to ensure their performance evaluations are on point and not leaving room for abusive conduct.

In the end, if a trainer mentions abusive conduct and provides examples of what abusive conduct might look like, and there are attendees feeling like they are the target of those behaviors, the attendees’ next stop is HR’s office to file a complaint. AB 2053 doesn’t require employers to have a policy or grievance procedure in place to address abusive conduct complaints, but responsible employers will have one in anticipation of receiving them. Further, I’m not an attorney, but it seems that if an employer has a training where abusive conduct is discussed, receives a complaint about abusive conduct, and then does nothing about it, it would make winning a legal case against the employer a little easier.

In other words, AB 2053 seems to corner employers into addressing abusive conduct, AKA workplace bullying. “Brilliant!” I say.

So what does AB 2053 mean for employers and sexual harassment trainers?

Employers, if your sexual harassment training is mentioning a behavior you don’t have the processes in place to handle, you could get caught “with your pants down” as you receive complaints you don’t know what to do with. And if your trainer is not addressing the topic in the right ways, you may not be in full compliance with AB 1825 or AB 2053.

Sexual harassment prevention trainers, if you don’t know much about abusive conduct or the potential repercussions for the organization you are training for, you could get caught “with your pants down” if 1) you don’t incorporate principles of preventing abusive conduct or 2) you incorporate them but you don’t know the answers to questions that your clients and training attendees will undoubtedly ask.

A colleague and I are going to do a webinar to help employers and sexual harassment trainers learn more about addressing AB 2053. Learn more information and register here.

About Catherine Mattice

Catherine Mattice, MA, SPHR, SHRM-SCP is President of consulting and training firm, Civility Partners, and has been successfully providing programs in workplace bullying and building positive workplaces since 2007. Her clients include Fortune 500’s, the military, several universities and hospitals, government agencies, small businesses and nonprofits. She has published in a variety of trade magazines and has appeared several times on NPR, FOX, NBC, and ABC as an expert, as well as in USA Today, Inc Magazine, Huffington Post, Entrepreneur Magazine, and more. Catherine is Past-President of the Association for Talent Development (ATD), San Diego Chapter and teaches at National University. In his book foreword, Ken Blanchard called her book, BACK OFF! Your Kick-Ass Guide to Ending Bullying at Work, “the most comprehensive and valuable handbook on the topic.” She recently released a second book entitled, SEEKING CIVILITY: How Leaders, Managers and HR Can Create a Workplace Free of Bullying.

What Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion Really Mean

Diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI) are essential to creating a positive work environment where employees are happy and thriving. We work with organizations to assess and address any issues related to DEI, and we provide training and resources to help create a...

5 Action Items for Diversity, Equity and Inclusion in the Workplace

Building a healthy workplace where employees feel appreciated and respected requires, among other things, making it diverse and inclusive. It is essential for organizations that want to attract and retain top talent, foster innovation, and stay competitive in today's...

Toxic Work Culture: Three Behaviors That Contribute

Way before working at Civility Partners, I suffered from a toxic work culture. Even though I loved my job, it was very tiring—emotionally, mentally, and physically. The work environment was very unhealthy, and because of that, I made the best decision of my life by...

15 Tiny Habits To Kick Off Your New Year

If you’re anything like me, you kick off your New Year with all the lofty resolutions you can think of. In theory, it’s a great way to be intentional about your future. My problem in checking off those resolutions (and maybe yours, too) is twofold. First, I set...

Civility Partners 2022 Highlights!

2022 was full of learning opportunities and growth. And we had the privilege of sharing some of that knowledge with you, via our blog posts! See below for our highlight reel, in case you missed anything… *All of the resources referenced are re-linked below the video*...

In the Words of Luke Bryan…

I believe most people are good.   Working in an industry focused on toxic workplaces can often seem like the world is full of bullies and ill-intentioned people. I can imagine that working in a toxic environment could lead to similar sentiments. This is why it’s...

Can music at work constitute harassment?

After a recent webinar, a listener sent over this interesting article about a former Tesla employee who’s asking the US District Court of Nevada to agree with her claim that the “obscene and misogynistic rap music” played on site and the resulting actions of her...

Tis’ the Season of Thanks!

It’s the season of thanks and we want to recognize everyone we’re thankful for! We are so thankful to our clients, friends, families, pets, and awesome blog readers like you! We are thankful you take the time to read our content, and even more importantly, deliver on...

4 Ways to Level Up Your Delegation Skills

According to research by The Strategic Thinking Institute, 96% of leaders struggle with finding enough time for strategic work in their roles. They find themselves doing the daily tasks of the job, instead of thinking strategically about the business and taking the...

4 Ways To Overcome Loneliness in a Remote World

Written by: Suzzane Dickman-Perla   When the world first went into lockdown a couple of years ago, I was thrilled with the idea of working from home. Finally! No more waking up at 5am to make the two-hour commute to work. I could wear what I wanted and spend as...