Adding to the list of 2019 laws combatting sexual harassment in the wake of the #MeToo movement is Assembly Bill 2770 (AB-2770). AB-2770 was put forth to address concerns that the fear of defamation liability dissuades victims of sexual harassment from coming forward to make claims and dissuades employers from investigating or advising prospective employers about alleged sexual harassment.
In response to the #MeToo movement, former California Governor Jerry Brown signed many bills into law protecting victims of sexual assault, including Assembly Bill 1619 (AB 1619). AB 1619 increases the statute of limitations for claims of sexual assault from two (2) years to 10 years from the date of the last act of violence, or within three (3) years from the date the victim knew or should have known that an injury or illness resulted from an act of sexual assault.
A group called Time's Up Healthcare will aim to resolve issues related to harassment and discrimination that workers in California and elsewhere may face. It will try to accomplish this goal in part by seeking greater gender balance among health care leadership. This group is similar to the Time's Up movement that was inspired by the #MeToo movement that played a role in bringing awareness to gender issues in Hollywood.
In response to the recent high-profile allegations of sexual harassment following the #MeToo campaign, the California legislature passed Senate Bill 224 (SB-224) to expand existing protections of employees and applicants from sexual harassment in the workplace. In addition to the Fair Employment and Housing Act's (FEHA) protection, Civil Code section 51.9 of the Unruh Act imposes liability for sexual harassment occurring within a non-employment context involving a business, service, or professional relationship.
Under Assembly Bill 3109 (AB-3109), any contract or settlement agreement will be deemed void and unenforceable if it contains a provision waiving a party's right to testify regarding criminal conduct or sexual harassment by the other party or the other party's employees or agents in an administrative, legislative or judicial proceeding.
California employers were already required to provide employees with a reasonable break time and a reasonable room or other location, "other than a toilet stall," for the purposes of expressing milk. That, however, is no longer enough thanks to the passage of Assembly Bill 1976 (AB-1976). Employers are now required to make reasonable efforts to provide employees with use of a room or other location, other than a bathroom, for purposes of expressing milk.
California employers may need to revisit their sexual-harassment-prevention training to ensure compliance with the newly enacted Senate Bill 1343 (SB 1343). Prior to SB 1343, only businesses employing 50 or more workers were required to provide sexual-harassment-prevention training to supervisory employees.
Sexual harassment and/or discrimination settlement agreements have often included confidentiality provisions or non-disclosure agreements (NDAs) prohibiting victims from disclosing terms of settlement and the underlying facts of their claim. Beginning January 1, 2019, however, any settlement agreement containing an NDA clause will be considered void.
The #MeToo movement and revelations about sexual harassment in the entertainment industry and elsewhere have led to significant efforts to reform the industry in California and elsewhere. Harvey Weinstein, the prominent movie producer, was at the center of many of these allegations in late 2017; they have since expanded to highlight a number of well-known figures in the industry. Harassment and assault complaints have been the focus of media stories, activism and social media campaigns.
Sexual harassment can take place within retail establishments in California, so it is important that employers have a policy in place that describes what sexual harassment is and how it should be reported. Reports that are made should be forwarded to a human resources official or to anyone else trained to handle them. Furthermore, the system must ensure that allegations of harassment will be investigated even if the perpetrator is in a position of power.