New laws extend statute of limitations on discrimination complaints, nix forced arbitration
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Wednesday, October 16, 2019

New laws extend statute of limitations on discrimination complaints, nix forced arbitration

By Pamela Wolf, J.D.

The package of 15 bills signed by the governor also provides for new harassment training and prevention, increases worker safety, and adds penalties for failing to pay wages, among other things.

On October 10, California Governor Gavin Newsom signed 15 bills that will increase protections for workers, including what his office called "landmark legislation" drafted in response to the #MeToo movement focused on sexual harassment prevention and accountability, and creating a safe workplace for all Californians, especially women who experience sexual harassment at disproportionate rates.

Statute of limitations extended.Assembly Bill 9, known as the Stop Harassment and Reporting Extension (SHARE) Act, extends the deadline to file an allegation of unlawful workplace harassment, discrimination, or civil rights-related retaliation under the California Fair Employment and Housing Act (FEHA) from one year to three years. The legislation also imposes a statute of limitations period that is six times the length of the federal standard and three times the length of the current state standard. Workplace harassment includes discrimination, retaliation based on protected characteristics such as sex and gender, sexual orientation, gender identity, race, age, religion, disability and more, the governor’s office pointed out.

"The #MeToo movement has brought attention to many of the dynamics related to sexual harassment," according to Eloise Gomez Reyes (D-Grand Terrace), author of the legislation. "In particular, many victims have shared that they needed ample time to fully grasp what happened to them before they felt comfortable coming forward. In addition, the fear of retaliation often prevented victims from being able to report incidents of sexual harassment. These barriers are not limited to sexual harassment. Victims of all forms of discrimination and harassment may be initially unclear about what happened, unaware of their rights, or reluctant to report misconduct to their boss."

No more forced arbitration.Assembly Bill 51 prohibits employers from requiring employees or applicants for employment to waive a right, forum, or procedure for a violation of FEHA or the Labor Code as a condition of employment or employment-related benefit. It also prohibits employers from threatening, retaliating or discriminating against, or terminating employees or applicants because they refused to waive any such right, forum, or procedure.

"Forced arbitration is among the most harmful practices that have enabled widespread abuse to go undetected for decades," said the bill’s author, Lorena Gonzalez (D-San Diego). "Workers are forced to sign away their rights in order to get hired. When they seek to report violations, they are denied the ability to go to court or a state agency for help. Instead they are trapped in the employer’s handpicked arbitration system."

Harassment training and prevention. Two of the bills signed by the governor address harassment training and prevention. Assembly Bill 547 requires the director of the Department of Industrial Relations to convene an advisory committee to refine the recommendations on in-person sexual violence and harassment prevention training requirements for janitorial employers and employees.

Senate Bill 530 instructs the Division of Labor Standards Enforcement to develop an industry-specific harassment and discrimination prevention policy for the construction industry. It also permits employers of multiemployer collective bargaining agreements to satisfy anti-harassment training by verifying they have received requisite training.

Other worker protection bills. Newsom also signed the following bills on October 10:

  • AB 35: Worker safety: blood lead levels: reporting.
  • AB 203: Occupational safety and health: Valley Fever.
  • AB 355: Public Employment Relations Board: Orange County Transportation Authority.
  • AB 538: Sexual assault: medical evidentiary examinations and reporting.
  • AB 673: Failure to pay wages: penalties.
  • AB 1400: Employment safety: firefighting equipment: mechanics.
  • AB 1748: California Family Rights Act: flight crews.
  • AB 1768: Prevailing wage: public works.
  • SB 142: Employees: lactation accommodation.
  • SB 229: Discrimination: complaints: administrative review.
  • SB 688: Failure to pay wages: penalties.

"Work is about more than earning an income," Governor Newsom said in a release. "For many, a job can provide a sense of purpose and belonging—the satisfaction of knowing your labor provides value to the world. Everyone should have the ability to feel that pride in what they do, but for too many workers, they aren’t provided the dignity, respect or safety they deserve. These laws will help change that."

News: StateLegislation Discrimination SexualHarassment SexDiscrimination RaceDiscrimination WageHour MinimumWage Overtime Safety LaborNews EmployeeLeave Retaliation CaliforniaNews

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