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December 19, 2014 • joedolson

According to a recent study published in the Harvard Business Review, 98 percent of employees have faced some form of bullying in their workplace, ranging from verbal abuse to physical threats or assault. Bullying is costing plenty. According to a poll of 800 managers and employees conducted by the Harvard Business Review, 47% of respondents worried about bullying intentionally decreased their time spent at work, while 80% lost work time worrying about a bullying incident. A hostile work culture may affect external relationships when abusive employees are likewise rude to customers or clients.

In response to these concerns, California became the first state to mandate training on workplace bullying. In September 2014, California Governor Jerry Brown signed into law the first step toward increased regulation of workplace civility. California employers with more than 50 employees must now provide training to all supervisors on bullying. Where the statute previously required two-hour sexual harassment training for supervisors, it now requires that “abusive conduct” also be covered in the training.

“Abusive conduct” is defined 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.” This conduct may include “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.” The statute notes that a single act is not sufficient to constitute “abusive conduct,” unless especially severe and egregious. The California law does not specify how much of the two-hour training must be dedicated to abusive conduct, nor does it explain what content should be covered. Any training on abusive conduct will count toward the two-hour harassment training requirement currently in place. California employers need to revise their training programs in anticipation of this new requirement, which takes effect on January 1, 2015.

HEADS UP – Other states are looking at similar types of legislation. Employers in other states are strongly encouraged to consider including bullying in their perception training programs as well for the benefit of their employees and workplace productivity in order to reduce expensive harassment and possible retaliation litigation.

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