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California Attempts to Clarify Confusion Over Training in Segments

Beginning January 1, 2021, an amendment to the California Code of Regulations section on preventing harassment and discrimination (2 CCR § 11023 et seq) will take effect. Among other minor revisions, subsection (7) of the team on training (2 CCR § 11024(b)) has been amended in an attempt to clarify that it is acceptable to take California harassment prevention training in “segments” (or “modules”). This practice was always good under the Fair Employment and Housing Commission (“FEHC”) interpretation of the California law requiring harassment prevention training; as the former regulation clearly stated, “[t]he training required by this section does not need to be completed in two consecutive hours.” The “new” section 7 now states, “[t]he training required by this section may be completed in segments, so long as the combined segments meet or exceed the applicable hourly requirement.”

Many providers have enjoyed providing training to their employees and managers in a modular fashion that allows them to “bookmark” and resume the course at a convenient time. While many might argue that such an approach enables the learner to forget what they have learned before restarting the system, it has long been used by many e-learning providers in California and has become popular. Indeed, Syntrio has allowed users to stop the practice and resume it later, understanding that the law only required that learners receive two hours of training (once every two years). The January 1 modification to the law does not change the requirement that learners receive two hours of training. Still, it does make clear that the modular approach is acceptable in that jurisdiction.

Leaving the regulation as it would have been enough for the average interpreter to infer that a modular approach was always acceptable under California law. Still, some within the field advocated for this change to allow employers to meet their sexual harassment training obligation by “training managers and employees every year, but with shorter training courses.” At best, this advice is a sleight of hand (in that the employer can – and always has been able to provide a modular structure to its training. At worst, informing an employer that they can provide (for example) two one-hour courses repeated annually (as the inference is drawn) is non-compliant with California law.

The California Fair Employment and Housing Act (“FEHA”) still requires that employers provide two hours of training for managers (and one hour of training for non-supervisory employees) to all employees every two years. The content requirements of this law are pretty straightforward and require unique content that meets or exceeds the two-hour requirement to be given bi-annually. Please do not mistake the ability to modularize your instruction for the ability to repeat a shorter course annually, as this approach will not comply with the law. Instead, we encourage you to contact one of our account executives, who can help you design a plan that meets your training goals, whether your organization sees fit to assign a modular structure to your training throughout the entire two-year period, or a longer course that meets the training obligation in one sitting.

Syntrio is happy to discuss the positives of a modular structure, such as flexibility, and the downside of such an approach (such as tracking challenges for individuals and loss of recognition of content). We look forward to assisting your organization in meeting its training goals for 2021 and beyond with a unique approach to e-learning and a team of experts who will help point you in the right direction regarding your obligations in a particular jurisdiction.

Since 2007, Jonathan has practiced labor and employment law on behalf of management. Jonathan focuses his practice on advising employers on the prevention of harassment and discrimination issues, with an emphasis on providing in-person harassment training programs to companies of all sizes. Jonathan is licensed in California, Illinois, and Wisconsin, and maintains a national advice practice.

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