Earlier this March, the California Department of Fair Employment and Housing issued new regulations on workplace discrimination and harassment that go into effect April 1, 2016. To comply with these regulations, employers must have a written policy prohibiting harassment in the workplace. Most employee handbooks contain such a policy, but the new regulations add specific requirements for the language in the policy, including the following:
- All current protected classifications (including gender expression and gender identity) must be listed in the policy
- Employees can report harassment to company representatives (such as Human Resources and senior management), a hotline, or ombudsman, rather than their immediate supervisor
- Harassment by any co-worker, manager or third party the individual comes in contact with as part of their work duties is prohibited
- A complaint process that insures confidentiality to the extent possible and indicates a timely response will be provided
- An investigative process guaranteeing a timely, thorough and fair investigation by impartial and qualified personnel, with due process for all parties and a conclusion based on evidence
- Documentation and tracking of the investigation to demonstrate reasonable progress and a timely conclusion
- Assurances that the investigation will be conducted confidentially to the extent possible
- Statement that appropriate remedies will be taken if an investigation determines the policy was violated
- Requirement that management personnel report all complaints of misconduct under the policy to Human Resources
- Prohibition on retaliation for reporting a complaint or participating in an investigation
The regulations require that the policy be distributed to all employees (either in paper or electronic format), posted to insure all employees read it, or discussed in employee orientation. Another new requirement is that the policy against harassment must be translated into a language spoken by at least ten percent of the work force.
If your company’s current handbook does not set forth a harassment policy, or your current policy does not contain all the language required by the regulations, one option for compliance is revising and re-distributing your handbook. A simpler method is to draft a compliant policy and distribute to all employees (including a translated version if applicable), with space for the employee to sign an acknowledgement that the policy has been received and read. Be sure to maintain copies of all signed acknowledgements in order to prove compliance if necessary.
If your company needs assistance with drafting a compliant policy, or you have questions regarding the new regulations, please contact Erick Becker at firstname.lastname@example.org.