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Jackson Legislation Targets Workplace Sexual Harassment

On the heels of the #wesaidenough and #metoo movements, state Sen. Hannah-Beth Jackson (D-Santa Barbara) has introduced legislation to close loopholes in laws that discourage or prevent victims from speaking out, allow employers to avoid sexual harassment and discrimination laws, and leave employees vulnerable to sexual harassment at work.

Senate Bill 1300 provides guidance to the courts on the “severe or pervasive” legal standard for sexual harassment litigation, so that it is fairly applied in court to protect victims.

SB 1300 also prohibits non-disparagement clauses and “sneaky releases” that prevent victims from speaking out about abuse, strengthens sexual harassment training requirements, and holds employers accountable for preventing harassment in the workplace.

“Over the past few months of this significant national discussion, it has become clear that it is not merely enough that we hold perpetrators accountable, although that is vital, and that there is no single, simple solution for combatting sexual harassment at work,” Jackson said.

“Instead, we need widespread reforms to our workplace and legal cultures, so that victims are free to speak out, the culture of our workplaces change, employers and perpetrators are held accountable, and our courts are fair to victims,” she said.

The #wesaidenough and #metoo movements brought to light the pervasiveness of sexual harassment in the workplace across all industries, and the harm it  inflicts on a victim’s emotional well-being, career, and lifetime earnings, while exposing the complex legal and cultural factors that enable sexual harassment to persist unchallenged.

Over the past few months, Jackson, who is chair of the Senate Judiciary Committee, has held two informational hearings at the state Capitol to more closely examine the “severe or pervasive” legal standard and changes needed to ensure a harassment-free culture at work.

Senate Bill 1300 (Jackson) includes a number of reforms addressed in these hearings:

» Addresses the legal standard around sexual harassment: In response to reports of sexual harassment cases being dismissed by the courts, SB 1300 provides guidance to the courts on the “severe or pervasive” legal standard for sexual harassment, to ensure that the standard is consistently and fairly applied to protect victims.
 
» Ends legal tactics that silence victims: SB 1300 prohibits employers from requiring workers to release any and all claims against the employer, including claims for sexual harassment, as a condition of employment or in exchange for a raise or a bonus (often called “sneaky releases”).

SB 1300 also prohibits employers from requiring workers to sign “non-disparagement” agreements as a condition of employment, which prevent employees from speaking out about abuse.
 
» Ensures employees are informed: This bill requires employers to provide information to each employee on how to report harassment and how to contact the Department of Fair Employment and Housing to file a complaint.

» Strengthens sexual harassment training: Requires all employers of five employees or more to provide sexual harassment training to all employees, not just supervisors, and requires employers to provide bystander intervention training, so employees are trained on how to effectively intervene if they see inappropriate behavior taking place.

» Holds employers accountable: SB 1300 will require that employers take reasonable steps to prevent sexual harassment in the workplace, even when the behavior in question does not rise to the “severe or pervasive” legal standard.

Jackson also introduced Senate Bill 224 last year to expand sexual harassment protections to explicitly prohibit sexual harassment by investors, elected officials, lobbyists, directors and producers.

SB 1300 will be heard in the Senate Labor and Industrial Relations Committee on April 11.

Jackson represents the 19th Senate District, which includes all of Santa Barbara County and western Ventura County.
 
— Marly Young for State Sen. Hannah-Beth Jackson.

 

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