California law requires employers regularly employing 50 or more persons (or regularly receiving the services of 50 or more persons providing services pursuant to a contract) to provide prevention of abusive conduct as a component of its anti-harassment training and education requirements targeted at all employees.
Abusive conduct means “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.” Abusive conduct can take many forms such as “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.” No one single act can be considered abusive conduct unless it is especially severe and egregious. Abusive conduct is not legally actionable unless it is associated with a protected classification (e.g., race, religion, pregnancy, gender, sex, national origin, etc.).
To help prevent abusive conduct employers should consider the following:
- Promote inclusion and civility as a means of creating a more civil and respectful work environment.
- Don’t fall into the “high performer trap” believing that the bad behavior of top performers justifies turning a blind eye to abusive or unlawful conduct.
- Don’t let instances of rude or abusive conduct go unaddressed as this can negatively impact moral and lead to an adverse change in company culture.
- Train employees on both California law and your own company policies. Focus on duties and responsibilities especially when it comes to reporting unacceptable conduct that is either witnessed or reported.
- Take the opportunity during one-on-one or group meetings to reemphasize the importance of creating and maintaining a culture of respect and civility.