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4 New Sexual Harassment Laws Take Effect On Jan. 1. Here's What They Say

In this Jan. 20, 2018, file photo, protesters gather at the Grand Park for a Women's March against sexual violence in Los Angeles. Four new laws addressing sexual harassment in the workplace will take effect in California on Jan. 1. (Jae C. Hong/AP)
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Four new California laws that aim to combat sexual harassment in the workplace will take effect with the start of the new year. It's yet another sign of the #MeToo movement's growing reach as the impact expands beyond the arenas of politics and the entertainment industry.

"The MeToo movement dramatically and forcefully helped lift the veil of a rampant culture of sexual harassment and assault that has pervaded our workplace for far too long," State Senator Hannah-Beth Jackson said. "Moving toward a harassment-free culture requires comprehensive policy and legal reforms that allow victims to seek justice."

Jackson spoke at a Thursday press conference presenting the bills, two of which she authored. She was joined by other elected officials and several Hollywood activists, including Mira Sorvino, Rosanna Arquette and Chantal Cousineau.

Sorvino said she decided when she went public with her allegations against film producer Harvey Weinstein that she wanted to see her workplace change.

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State Sen. Hannah-Beth Jackson, D-Santa Barbara, addresses the California Senate in this Wednesday, Aug. 29, 2018 file photo. Jackson authored two of four new sexual harassment laws that take effect Jan. 1. (Rich Pedroncelli/AP)

"Awareness without action is hollow," she said. "We want employers to know that they may no longer coerce people through paperwork to stay silent even when there is real and illegal abuse happening."

Here's how the new laws aim to tighten the rules on sexual harassment:

SB 1300

Also known as the Sexual Harassment Prevention and Accountability Act, this is one of the bills that Jackson authored. And it covers a lot of ground:

  • The current legal standard for harassment requires that it be "severe or pervasive." This bill makes that legal threshold more inclusive and provides specific guidance to the courts on how to apply the standard consistently and fairly.
  • The bill also lets employers add "bystander intervention training" to their already-required sexual harassment training.
  • It takes away the loopholes that let employers get around sexual harassment claims, or what Jackson calls "sneaky releases." For instance, employers will not be allowed to require workers to sign a document that limits their ability to make sexual harassment claims as a condition of getting a raise or promotion. And it outlaws non-disparagement agreements, which prohibit employees from speaking out about their experience with harassment at the company.
  • It also prevents employers from getting their attorney fees covered under the Fair Employment and Housing Act unless a judge rules that the claim was "frivolous."

SB 820

This one's pretty simple: no more secret settlements allowed in sexual harassment, assault or discrimination cases.

Secret settlements are exactly what they sound like: It's when the plaintiff and the defendant reach an agreement behind closed doors, and the facts of the case aren't publicly disclosed.

State Senator Connie Leyva authored this one, and she said that such agreements are not acceptable because perpetrators need to be held accountable for what they do.

SB 224

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To prove sexual harassment, the law currently requires plaintiffs to show that a professional relationship exists between them and the perpetrator, and it lists several professions by name, including attorney, real estate agent, social worker, and appraiser.

Jackson, who authored this bill, too, said it adds some common offenders to the list, including investor, elected official, lobbyist, director, and producer. The bill also eliminates a requirement that the plaintiff prove the relationship could not be "easily terminated."

Jackson said she brought this bill forward because even with the current protections in place, women are still vulnerable to harassment.

AB 3082

The vast majority of in-home caretakers are female and in a minority group. Add the fact that they tend to be low-wage workers and frequently work in isolation, and they are especially vulnerable to harassment, said Assemblywoman Lorena Gonzalez, who authored this bill.

AB 3082 requires the State Department of Social Services to come up with a new policy to guard these workers and the recipients of their care against sexual harassment. It also requires that policy to be implemented by the end of September 2019.

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