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New California laws address sexual harassment in the workplace

Whether you're an employee working in California or you happen to employ others for your business in the state, it's important to know that there are some significant legal changes that go into effect Jan. 1, 2019.

Sexual harassment is being addressed in several ways in the new laws.

Employers can no longer turn a blind eye when customers sexually harass their employees. Employers have a legal responsibility, now, for the acts of nonemployees. (Employers are also now responsible for any type of harassment their employees receive on the basis of their status in a protected class.)

This law particularly benefits those in service industries. Restaurant and hotel workers, in particular, are often subjected to sexual harassment from patrons -- harassment management often ignores in favor of keeping the customer happy.

Employees can also look forward to the ability to more easily pursue a legal claim for sexual harassment. The burden of proof is now lower -- which means that defending a harassment suit is going to be substantially more difficult.

That's important partially because employers will now be heavily motivated to train their employees better when it comes to what sexual harassment really is. Avoiding a lawsuit will be more important than trying to defend one. Sexual harassment training is now legally mandated when employers have 50 or more employees.

Nondisclosure agreements are now a thing of the past when a company settles up regarding sexual discrimination, harassment and assault. Nondisclosure agreements have been used to protect company reputations (and the reputations of highly placed executives within those companies) from sexual harassment allegations. Those agreements also have a disturbing way of allowing the harassment to continue, unabated.

Harassers also won't be able to silence their victims anymore by threatening them with defamation lawsuits. If there's "credible evidence" of a claim and the claim is made "without malice," employees now have legal protection when they seek redress.

If you are the victim of sexual harassment at work, don't keep silent. It's important to stand up and speak out in order to make it clear that sexual harassment is no longer "business as usual."

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