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California lawmaker sexual harassment crisis: is training adequate?


The movement by women across the country who are coming forward with their stories of workplace sexual harassment has reached the California State Capitol. In October, a letter signed by nearly 150 women was released that said sexual harassment is at toxic levels in the Legislature. Since then, two assemblymen have resigned after several women accused them of harassment, and a state senator is facing similar claims of inappropriate behavior with female staff members.

As the nation reckons at last with how pervasive and destructive sexual harassment is in this country, it is clear that things have to change. The courage of victims naming their harassers is just the beginning. Litigation against companies that protect executives and managers who harass their subordinates will be an important part of making all workplaces a safe and healthy environment for everyone.

Is workplace training adequate?

Another key part of this revolution will be training managers and supervisors so that they are clear what is appropriate behavior at work -- and what is not. Anti-sexual harassment training programs are already common in corporate America. But a recent report in The San Jose Mercury News suggests that there is long way to go before these programs are effective.

Sexual harassment at the Capitol

As the Mercury News reports, the California Legislature requires lawmakers to attend a sexual harassment training course every two years. Attendance is supposed to be mandatory and the vast majority of legislators do attend. However, at least one state senator skipped this year's course and had not made it up as of Dec. 19. Seven lawmakers missed the class in 2013, and at least three did not show up in 2015.

Perhaps more concerning is the behavior of legislators who do attend. Side conversations and cellphone use are rampant. "I would say the large majority of people are not as attentive," Assemblywoman Cristina Garcia, chair of the Legislative Women's Caucus, admitted.

Cell phones and side conversations

Some of the problem could be the nature of the course, which is led by employment law attorneys who present PowerPoint slides. Some lawmakers call the sessions surface-level with little real teaching. One assemblywoman compared it to a lecture for fourth-graders.

What sexual harassment looks like

There are many forms of workplace sexual harassment. Some classic examples include:

  • Sexually charged jokes, remarks or emails
  • Unwanted touching or physical blocking
  • Requests for sexual favors, perhaps in exchange for job benefits or under threat of termination

Women who try to resist these advances or inappropriate comments often find themselves suddenly getting punished, demoted or even fired on some pretext. They lose their means of income, and may be forced to take a lower-paying job. All because they did not accept being the victim of sexual harassment.

Workers with an experience similar to this have the legal right to pursue damages from their employer or former employer in court. If you are considering taking legal action, consult an experienced Bay Area employment lawyer to learn about your options.

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