California Updates Workplace Sexual Harassment Law to Protect Transgender Individuals and Others


In 2004, the California State Legislature passed a bill that established stringent workplace sexual harassment training requirements for businesses operating in the Golden State. The legislation, called Assembly Bill 1825, mandated firms with 50 or more employees to provide at least two hours of formalized sexual harassment awareness instruction to all workers. It set firmer stipulations for would-be supervisors, requiring enterprises to administer sexual harassment training to these employees six months prior to their assumption of managerial activities. The law acted as a companion to the California Fair Employment and Housing Act, which made illegal workplace discrimination and harassment.


At the end of 2017, California state legislators revisited AB 1825 and made multiple amendments to protect transgender and gender-nonconforming individuals from sexual harassment in the workplace, HR Dive reported. These changes were compiled within Senate Bill 396, which, according to California State Legislature records, passed and received Gov. Jerry Brown’s signature Oct. 15, 2017. SB 396 went into effect on January 1, 2018, and requires employers to include training on gender identity, gender expression and sexual orientation. The training is required to include practical examples to address such harassment.

Employers operating in the state would be wise to familiarize themselves with the amendments included in SB 396 and develop new workplace training programs to maintain compliance under these new regulations. Here are the five key modifications to AB 1825 included in the legislation:

Section 1
The first section of SB 396 details an amendment to the portion of AB 1825 covering employee communication, which states the businesses in the state of California must hang informational posters addressing sexual harassment in the workplace. This latest bill adds a new requirement compelling firms to put up posters affirming the rights of transgender and gender-nonconforming employees.

Enterprises should obtain the information featured on such signage from the Department of Fair Employment and Housing, which offers information sheets to accompany all of the legislation it enforces.

Section 2

SB 396 Section 2 expands the instructional requirements established in AB 1825, requiring employers to specifically address gender identity, gender expression and sexual orientation during sexul harassment training seminars. This specialized instruction should include “practical examples” of gender identity- or expression-based harassment and must be led by qualified professionals who understand the subject.

This portion of SB 396 also includes an expanded reference section detailing varieties of abusive conduct that are forbidden, by law, in the workplace. These include general verbal abuse, physical violence or intimidation and behavior designed to cause humiliation.

Section 3
The third section of SB 396 expands portions 14000-14530 of the California Unemployment Insurance Code, which pertain to the implementation of a piece of federal legislation called the Workforce Innovation and Opportunity Act. This bill, signed into law by former President Barack Obama, helps job seekers obtain positions through educational and recruitment services. The legislation also establishes specialized services for certain individuals known to encounter “employment barriers.” Section 3 of the SB 396 adds transgender and gender nonconforming individuals to this group, expanding their access to critical employment assistance and offering them further legal protection.

Section 4
SB 396 Section 4 delves into the mechanics of providing sexual harassment training designed to protect transgender and gender-nonconforming individuals. It expands on one of the primary tenets of the bill, which states that the governor must appoint professionals from established local organizations supporting the LGBTQ community to the California Workforce Development Board. These individuals are tasked with collaborating with employers to ensure training related to transgender and gender-nonconforming individuals is both effective and respectful.

Section 5
The final section of the legislation legitimizes the expansion of the California Unemployment Insurance Code. However, it stipulates that the changes included in SB 396 only go into effect when implemented in conjunction with those included in AB 957, a piece of supporting legislation.

Addressing training changes
California is home to more than 218,000 transgender and gender nonconforming residents. This is the second largest population of such individuals in the country, according to researchers from the Williams Institute at the UCLA School of Law. SB 396 helps protect these individuals as they navigate the workforce by expanding the sexual harassment training requirements in AB 1825.

Employers in the state are required to comply with these new statutes. Those that fail to do so are subject to legal action. With this in mind, California-based organizations should amend their instructional programs as soon as possible.



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