SACRAMENTO–California State Assemblywoman Lorena Gonzalez Fletcher (D-San Diego) introduced a series of legislation that will help victims of sexual harassment seek justice by prohibiting California employers from requiring prospective hires to sign one-sided arbitration agreements.
The Assemblywoman’s legislative package would also provide employees with more protection against retaliation when they do file sexual-harassment complaints and create new protections for janitors and in-home support services workers, who are particularly vulnerable to sexual harassment in their jobs.
“Victims of workplace sexual harassment face too many obstacles when they’re seeking protection,” Assemblywoman Gonzalez Fletcher said. “These bills will make it easier for workers to get the justice they deserve and do so without fear of losing their jobs or careers.”
Forced arbitration agreements have become a common tool of employers who seek to prevent employees from filing a lawsuit or, in instances of sexual harassment, filing a complaint with the state’s Department of Fair Employment and Housing. Instead, employees who sign these agreements are forced to go through the arbitration process with any sexual-harassment complaint. A 2015 report by the California Labor Federation described this process as “a rigged system…in which an employer pays for its own arbitrators who then hear disputes in private. As you might imagine, this process rarely results in justice for an exploited worker.” Workers often don’t even realize what they’re signing when they enter into these contracts as a condition of employment.
In forced arbitration, any settlements often require the victim to refrain from discussing the case publicly. In a workplace with a culture of sexual harassment, these arbitration agreements are particularly toxic, enabling the abusive behavior to continue unchecked.
“No one should be forced to sign one of these unfair, lopsided agreements as a condition of getting a job,” Assemblywoman Gonzalez Fletcher said. “The deck is stacked against any employee who is forced to sign one of these agreements and then finds himself or herself a victim of sexual harassment.”
AB 3080 would prohibit employers requiring their new hires to sign these agreements as a condition of getting the job, continuing in the job, or receiving an employment-related benefit. Employers would be forbidden from retaliating against any employee who declines to sign such an agreement. The bill also includes a “whistleblower” provision prohibiting employees, prospective employees or independent contractors from publicly disclosing any sexual harassment that they endured or witnessed.
The legislation package will also include AB 3081, which is designed to protect all workers from sexual harassment and retaliation related to reporting sexual harassment. All employers with 25 or more employees must notify these workers of their rights and protections regarding sexual harassment and also offer sexual-harassment training. If an employee is subjected to any negative job action within 90 days of reporting sexual harassment, there would be a presumption of retaliation.
AB 3081 would also establish a hotline to the state Labor Commissioner’s Office for any employee seeking guidance after being sexually harassed or witnessing sexual harassment. The bill would also create a way for workers to file reports anonymously.
A third bill, AB 3082, would provide specific protections for in-home support services workers, those who work inside the homes of elderly or disabled clients and provide services such as caregiving, personal grooming, housecleaning and meal preparation. The bill would create a uniform statewide protocol for various public agencies to follow in cases where a worker in this profession encounters sexual harassment. This bill also aims to create effective sexual-harassment training for both workers and clients.
A fourth bill, AB 2079, the Janitor Survivor Empowerment Act, would certify promotoras and compadres, or female and male janitors serving as peer educators, to provide direct training on sexual harassment prevention in the workplace to other janitors at worksites throughout the industry.
This particular bill comes two years after Assemblywoman Gonzalez Fletcher authored, and the governor signed, AB 1978, which established workforce protections against sexual assaults and harassment that are pervasive in the janitorial industry. AB 2079 ensures that the sexual violence and harassment prevention training required under AB 1978 will be directly relevant to the unique conditions janitors confront while on the job.