R|O litigators successfully obtained a Workplace Violence Restraining Order, brought on behalf of an Association, to protect its management and staff from harassing conduct by one of the residents at the property. Said resident had established a pattern of verbally abusing others, which then escalated to unlawful threats and physical violence. Repeated demands by the Association and R|O for the resident to cease such conduct went ignored. The Court granted the Association’s Petition and imposed a number of personal conduct, communication, and stay away orders upon the resident to protect a number of named employees and staff at the property. R|O attorneys were also successful in obtaining an award for the Association to recover the full amount of its fees and costs. Actions such as this may become more prevalent as a result of newly-passed Senate Bill 1300, effective January 2019, which requires employers, including community associations and management, to take action when they become aware of instances of harassment at their properties.

Impact of Workplace Harassment for Community Associations and Management

Senate Bill 1300 was adopted on September 30, 2018 and became effective in January 2019. In general, the law has the effect of expanding the scope by which California employers may now be held responsible to their employees for harassment, even in circumstances where the one engaging in such conduct is a separate non-employee.

SB 1300 adds Government Code 12923, which emphasizes that California employees now have an enforceable “statutory right to work in a place free of discrimination when the harassing conduct sufficiently offends, humiliates, distresses, or intrudes upon its victim.” The Legislature also mandated that “[a] single incident of harassing conduct is sufficient” to demonstrate the existence of a hostile work environment.

Government Code section 12940 was amended so that employers may be liable to their employees if they are subject to any legally-recognized form of harassment by non-employees under the Fair Employment and Housing Act (FEHA). Such established forms of harassment include unlawful discrimination based upon sex, race, age, and religion. Thus, under SB 1300, community associations or their management, as employers, could potentially face hostile workplace claims if they neglect to take corrective action after learning of the existence of harassing conduct by board members, homeowners, or any other non-employees.

Associations and management should take all workplace harassment claims seriously, regardless of whether the claims involve other employees or also now as required by SB 1300, improper conduct by non-employees. Associations need to document an immediate response to the offending party. Associations should also investigate all reports and claims and document any additional information that is obtained. In addition to informing legal counsel, Associations may also want to refer affected parties to local law enforcement, if the level of harassment deems it necessary.

Written by Daniel C. Heaton 

Daniel C. Heaton is an Associate Attorney at Richardson|Ober.

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