Workplace Bullying and the New AB2053

October is Bullying Prevention Awareness Month. While we tend to associate bullying with trouble on the playground (and recently, online through social media), this serious problem is not exclusive to children. Bullying in the workplace has become a hot-button issue for HR across all industries.

Workplace bullying is on the rise. One survey shows 96% of respondents reported being bullied at work. One reason for such a high percentage may be because of the breath of what is considered bullying; according to CareerBuilder and VitalSmarts, bullying included being falsely accused of mistakes, being subjected to the silent treatment, being the subject of unfair gossip or assaults on your reputation, having professional performance belittled or diminished in front of peers, having someone steal credit for your work, sabotaging others' work or reputation, browbeating and threats, or even physical intimidation.

In a recent article for the Huffington Post, S.L. Young asked “Is workplace bullying the new harassment?” I tend to say yes. Workplace harassment is illegal and can be difficult to prove; bullying, however, may not fall under harassment laws (the bully sabotages your work, rather than uses a racial or sexist slur). Bullies have found a way to slip past harassment laws. The effect is damaging, to both victims and companies; 1 in 5 employees quit due to workplace bullying.

Workplace bullying laws have often fallen by the wayside (often introduced, never passed) in favor of much more popular sexual harassment legislation. Come January 1st, 2015, this is changing in California. The requirements set forth by the AB1825 legislation are getting an update to cover more than just sexual and other harassment. Assembly Bil No. 2053 (AB2053) “would additionally require...prevention of abusive conduct, as defined.”

Existing law makes specified employment practices unlawful, including the harassment of an employee directly by the employer or indirectly by agents of the employer with the employer’s knowledge. Existing law further requires every employer to act to ensure a workplace free of sexual harassment by implementing certain minimum requirements, including posting sexual harassment information posters at the workplace and obtaining and making available an information sheet on sexual harassment.

Existing law also requires employers, as defined, with 50 or more employees to provide at least 2 hours of training and education regarding sexual harassment to all supervisory employees, as specified. Existing law requires each employer to provide that training and education to each supervisory employee once every 2 years.

This bill would additionally require that the above-described training and education include, as a component of the training and education, prevention of abusive conduct, as defined.

The key here is how the bill describes abusive conduct: “conduct of an employer or employee in the workplace, with malice, that a reasonable person would find hostile, offensive, and unrelated to an employer’s legitimate business interests. Abusive conduct may include repeated infliction of verbal abuse, such as the use of derogatory remarks, insults, and epithets, verbal or physical conduct that a reasonable person would find threatening, intimidating, or humiliating, or the gratuitous sabotage or undermining of a person’s work performance.” This definition is more encompassing than traditional harassment definitions and seems to more clearly call out bullying behaviour.

What does this mean for training? Those who take harassment training before the January 1st regulation switchover date are subject to the previous rule (they are compliant for 2 years from that date). You will not need to worry about updated AB2053 training until your two years are up. However, if that time is rolling around for your managers (or you’ve hired new employees who fall under the rules), you’ll want to consider updated AB2053 courses.

Rest assured, OpenSesame is working with our content providers to get AB1825 courses updated to comply with the new AB2053. If you have any questions, please don’t hesitate to reach out to us at

For AB2053 courses, click here. Also check out our library of bullying and AB1825 courses. It’s never a bad idea to provide anti-bullying and harassment training to your entire staff, not just managers.

If you think you may be being bullied at work (see this Forbes article that helps identify sign of trouble), speak up. You can privately approach your supervisor or HR. You are not alone; you do not have to face your bully without help.

Have an experience with bullying, harassment, or training you’d like to share? If you’re comfortable sharing, start a discussion in the comments.