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New training standards adopted to protect janitors from sexual abuse on the job
Press-Enterprise - 11/6/2019
Nov. 4--A California law that requires the state's janitorial contractors to train its staff about sexual harassment and abuse has been updated to define how the process will work.
The initial law, Assembly Bill 1978, recognized the threats faced by many women cleaning offices alone at night and increased protections by initiating a statewide program to formally address the issue. It became law Jan. 1, 2019, after it was signed by then-Gov. Jerry Brown in 2016.
Last month, Gov. Gavin Newson signed AB 547, a bill that sets up training standards in the state's Labor Code. Unlike most sexual harassment training in California, which is typically provided by attorneys, in-house human resources officials or outside consultants, janitors will learn about their rights from people who have endured similar experiences.
AB 547 will provide for "peer-to-peer" training. Current and former janitors will be certified as trainers, which will help potentially vulnerable women feel more secure discussing such issues.
Both bills were authored by Assemblywoman Lorena Gonzalez, D-San Diego. Companies that provide contracted janitorial services, regardless of the number of employees, will be required to comply by scheduling two hours of training every other year. The training law goes into effect Jan. 1, 2021.
Gonzalez said the original bill put the changes into motion, and AB 547 formalizes the process. She called the janitorial trainers a question of "cultural competency."
"Women who work as janitors are almost exclusively immigrants who don't speak English," Gonzalez said. "They're fearful because of their immigration status. And many get raped because they're working alone in an office building in the middle of the night.
"They feel that they have nowhere to go" if they're assaulted, Gonzalez said.
The trainers will be schooled in labor law and evidence-based harassment prevention, and providers will be registered with the state's labor commissioner's office and that Department of Industrial Relations. At least one training operation is already set up, Gonzalez said.
"It will be a very intensive training regimen for the trainers," she said. "I've spoken to a number of them, and they understand how it works.
Gonzalez said she has yet to hear criticism of the law from janitorial contractors, perhaps because companies don't want to appear to be taking a negative view.
Thomas Lenz, a partner with Atkinson, Andelman, Loya, Ruud & Romo, a Cerritos-based law firm that represents employers in HR issues, said he expects lawyers to get a fair amount of questions on the new law.
AB 547 directly affects janitorial contractors, but the owners of office buildings and the companies that rent space are likely to be concerned about any potential liability should complaints rise under the law, Lenz said.
"This has been an industry that has been hard to pin down concerning the legal differences," Lenz said of janitorial contracting.
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