Are you ready? New legislation has dramatically expanded employer requirements for training.

Can We Return to the Rules of Civility?

A young George Washington copied some advice from an etiquette manual published by the French Jesuits in 1595. He named his list “Rules of Civility and Decent Behaviour in Company and Conversation” and lived his life upholding these rules. Today, many of us wonder what happened to these basic rules of respect and courtesy such as “Every action done in Company, ought to be with Some Sign of Respect, to those that are Present.”

Our nation has become overrun with conflict apparent in social media wars, a strongly divided political climate, and heightened anger and tension as claims of harassment are brought to the public’s attention.

So, what does this rising tension and conflict mean for employers?

Employers will need to focus on managing workplace conflict to prevent it from rising to the level of unlawful harassment. As a first step, employers are addressing the concept of civility as a means of reducing workplace conflict. Of course, some degree of conflict is a good thing! Disagreements are an expected and healthy component of human relationships that lead to creativity and new ideas. Disagreement and conflict do not equate to disrespect or unkindness. But when conflict becomes heated or disrespectful, it can be a forerunner to workplace harassment.

By requiring that employees treat each other with courtesy, respect, and civility, employers can begin taking reasonable steps to prevent unlawful discrimination and harassment in the workplace. This is an important first step because California law has established that employers have a responsibility to teach employees and managers how to recognize unlawful harassment and to instruct their workforce on methods for reporting, investigating, and addressing complaints.

What about the law?

Employers of over 50 employees should already be familiar with the California legal requirement to provide two hours of sexual harassment training including training on gender identity and gender expression discrimination to all supervisors within 6 months of their hire date and to repeat that training every 2 years.

New legislation has dramatically expanded employer requirements for sexual harassment training. Beginning on January 1, 2019, employers of five or more employees (including seasonal or temporary workers) will be required to provide the same training. This training is not just for supervisors any more, though! The bill specifies at least one hour of required sexual harassment training to all employees by the end of 2019, continuing once every two years.

An effective, interactive training program can help employees understand their obligations, their rights, and the risks to themselves and to their employers if a culture of unlawful harassment and discrimination is tolerated in any way. Prudent training programs will include education about all kinds of workplace harassment and discrimination along with some old-fashioned, common-sense training about treating everyone with respect. It certainly couldn’t hurt anyone to remember Washington’s advice: “Speak not injurious words neither in jest nor earnest. Scoff at none although they give occasion.” Our first President’s words still ring true today; his “Rules of Civility” should be a guide to us all.