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#MeToo Comes To California’s Legislature

In many respects, 2018 was a momentous year. Historians will likely look back on this year as a turning point for women, and particularly working women, who chose to step forward and raise their voices. In doing so, those women drew broad attention to issues related to sexual harassment and discrimination in the workplace.

The #MeToo movement began with a few accusations against some of the most powerful men in Hollywood and quickly grew to encompass the voices of thousands of women from all backgrounds and demographics.

The brave women who shared their personal experiences of sexual harassment, discrimination, and assault not only inspired millions, but, in California, also spurred real legislative change.

One Jan. 1, 2019, several new California employment laws will go into effect. Below are some of the most notable laws and how they will benefit workers.

California Senate Bill 1300

The Fair Employment and Housing Act (FEHA) affords California employees various protections against unlawful employment practices, including sexual harassment. The soon-to-be enacted SB 1300 broadens and more clearly defines those protections to include the following:

  • Employers are prohibited from requiring employees to sign any type of release or other agreement in exchange for a “raise or bonus or as a condition of employment” or when doing so would bar an employee from disclosing information that relates to a valid FEHA claim.
  • Employers can be held legally liable for any type of FEHA violation, not just those that relate to sexual harassment, carried out against an employee by a third party.
  • Employees who can cite just one incident of harassment — as opposed to repeated violations or a pattern of behavior — meet the legal definition of a hostile work environment.

California Senate Bill 224

Acts of sexual harassment can also occur outside of a traditional employment setting. California Civil Code 51.9 provides civil protections to individuals who suffer sexual harassment in the course of a “business, service or professional relationship.” In light of the #MeToo movement, SB 224 expands the legal liabilities of individuals and businesses subjected to this law to specifically include violations perpetrated by “entrepreneurs and venture capital investors, elected officials and lobbyists, directors and actors, and producers and filmmakers.”

California Senate Bill 820

SB 820 prohibits the inclusion of nondisclosure agreements in settlement agreements for civil and administrative sexual harassment, discrimination and assault claims. Additionally, the law provides privacy protections for plaintiffs, but not for defendants.

California Assembly Bill 2282

Passed into law in 2017, California Assembly Bill 168 barred employers from asking job applicants for “salary history information.” AB168 also required employers in the state to, upon request, provide job applicants with a pay scale of the position for which they applied.

The soon-to-be enacted AB2282 serves to more clearly define AB168’s provisions, including definitions of “applicant” and “pay scale.” AB2282 clarifies that AB168 applies only to outside job applicants and not current employees and that pay scale refers to a salary or hourly wage range. Additionally, only job applicants who have completed an initial interview are allowed to request pay scale information.

California Assembly Bill 3080

California Assembly Bill 3080 took aim at prohibiting employers’ use of arbitration agreements and was passed by state legislators. While outgoing Gov. Jerry Brown ultimately vetoed the bill, many employee rights’ proponents are hopeful that AB3080 will eventually be signed into law.

Taking Action If You Suffer Harassment Or Discrimination

The laws outlined above demonstrate California’s commitment to preventing and rooting out harassment and discrimination both inside and outside the workplace. Women who suffer harassment, discrimination or abuse of a sexual nature or otherwise at the hands of a manager, co-worker, customer, physician, producer or fellow actor have rights and should feel empowered to speak up, contact an employment attorney and exercise those rights.

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