California lawmakers add bullying to anti-sexual-harassment training

Posted in Sexual Harassment on November 14, 2014

California has long had laws against sexual harassment in the workplace. This includes sexual comments or behaviors that create a “hostile work environment.” The terminology reflects the important truth that sexual harassment is more about power and control than it is about lust.

But what about hostile work environments that do not have a component of sexual hostility? These environments may be just as toxic, but there is no law against workplace bullying. Thankfully, California legislators recently made progress on that front.

California employers with 50 or more workers are already required to administer sexual harassment training to their supervisors every two years. Starting in January 2015, that training must also include lessons on anti-workplace bullying. The legislation was authored by Assemblywoman Lorena Gonzalez.

Critics of anti-bullying legislation argue that one person’s “bully” is another person’s “motivator.” But Gonzalez’s bill does try to clarify what constitutes bullying. It reads, in part, that bullying can 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.” Single incidents generally do not constitute bullying unless they rise to the level of “severe and egregious.”

It is unknown at this point whether the legislation is strong enough and clear enough to make a significant impact. It may need revision in the future. But the new law is nonetheless a good start. Bullying and sexual harassment are very similar in nature. If we ban sexual harassment, we should also be willing to ban bullying.

Source: UT San Diego, “State to workplace bullies: knock it off,” Jonathan Horn, Nov. 2, 2014