February 6, 2020
CA Assembly Bill (AB) 9 – What is it?
AB 9 is known as the Stop Harassment and Reporting Extension (“SHARE”) Act. This bill was signed into law by California Governor Gavin Newsome on October 10, 2019 and went into effect on January 1, 2020. The purpose of the law is to expand employee protections related to harassment and discrimination in the workplace by extending the time during which allegations can be reported and pursued.
Although the law mentions ‘harassment’ in its title, it also applies equally to all forms of discrimination and retaliation that are prohibited under California employment law. By amending certain provisions of the California Government Code known as the Fair Employment and Housing Act (“FEHA”), the SHARE Act extends the amount of time available for workers to raise a complaint about the way that they have been treated in the workplace. The FEHA makes it unlawful for employers to discriminate against or harass workers based on race, sex, age, disability, medical condition, sexual orientation, veteran status, and other protected characteristics.
Specifically, now an employee will have three years from the time of the alleged misconduct to initiate an administrative complaint. Before this new law extended that deadline, claims for discrimination, harassment, and retaliation had to be first asserted within one year of the purportedly improper behavior. Under this new California regime, employees will now have three times as long as before to evaluate if they want to pursue a complaint – longer than under federal law or in most other states.
Once an administrative agency claim is raised and a ‘right-to-sue’ letter has been issued, giving the employee permission to pursue a legal case, the employee then has an additional year to file that formal complaint in court. This aspect remains unchanged from previously existing law.
What is the Impact of the SHARE Act on Older Claims?
The SHARE Act explicitly indicates that it will not revive any claims that had already lapsed as of December 31, 2019, under the prior one-year rule, barring exceptional circumstances. However, any claims that arose in 2019 will now be extended by the additional two years. For instance, if an employee resigned on February 1, 2019, because they believed that they were being discriminated against or harassed at work, the deadline for them to submit a complaint would now be February 1, 2022, rather than February 1, 2020, as it was before this change in the law.
How is this Change Expected to Affect the Workplace?
This change in the law was made largely in response to the #MeToo movement, as more employees began to feel more comfortable to come forward with allegations once similar accusations had been portrayed in the media against famous bosses. Now, employees will have additional time to pursue claims, in essence providing them more time to consider whether they want to come forward and pursue legal action.
Employers may face more claims of discrimination or harassment because of this change in the law. The longer liability period also may increase the damages exposure for any claim asserted. Now, companies can anticipate potential litigation over alleged behavior or employer decisions that took place as much as four or more years in the past (the new three-year extended time to first raise an administrative complaint plus the additional year to file a case in court).
We have yet to see the full impact of the SHARE Act. Stay tuned for new developments!
By Angela Reddock-Wright, Esq., Employment Law Mediator, Arbitrator & Workplace Investigator.
This post is the third in a series on new California employment laws that are going into effect in 2020.
DISCLAIMER: Nothing in this blog, written materials or otherwise is intended as legal advice by the Reddock Law Group, Managing Partner Angela Reddock-Wright or any person associated with the firm. This blog is intended for educational purposes only. The Reddock Law Group does not represent clients in legal matters. We are a full-service mediation, neutral, investigations and alternative dispute resolution firm. For legal advice, please contact a licensed attorney with experience in employment law.