Senate Bil No. 292 Broadened the Definition of Sexual Harassment

On August 12, 2013, the California legislature, in Senate Bill No. 292, expanded the concept of sexual harassment by amending the definition of harassment to state that “sexually harassing conduct need not to be motivated by sexual desire”.  In doing so, the legislature is continuing to broaden the definition of what constitutes sexual harassment and employers are now at greater risk for inappropriate action taken by their employees.

California protects and safeguards the right and opportunity of all persons to seek, obtain and hold employment without discrimination or harassment on account of many factors, including gender, gender identity or expression, sex or sexual orientation. With the signing of SB 292, “sexual harassing conduct” which includes harassment based on pregnancy, childbirth or related medical conditions need not be motivated by sexual desire.

In many instances, offenders act out of hostility toward a co-worker, not because of sexual desire, but rather, the individual’s gender or sexual orientation.  Courts previously, have ruled that hostility toward an individual cannot rise to the level of unlawful sexual harassment unless such treatment was motivated by sexual desire.

The signing of SB 292 into law highlights the need for employers to provide anti-harassment prevention training to managers and staff.  Many employees need this training because they’re unaware of the range of the harassment prohibitions and the complexities of harassment law in California.  Employers and their staff must clearly understand that regardless of the offender’s motivation, such conduct can constitute sexual harassment putting the employer at risk.

California employers with 50 or more employees must provide sexual harassment prevention training to all supervisors in California. Employers beware–you should take all complaints of offensive behavior seriously. Waiting until offensive or harassing behavior meets the legal definition of harassment will be too late.  Employers should be proactive and promptly respond to initial complaints of harassment or misconduct by an employee.

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