Protections for California janitorial workers (AB 1978)

As reported in a  2015 Frontline documentary, sexual harassment, sexual assault, and rape on the job are a hidden reality facing workers in the janitorial industry.  The documentary featured janitorial workers’ experiences of being raped and sexually assaulted by supervisors who threatened to report them to ICE (Immigration and Customs Enforcement), and then of being ignored and having their credibility attacked when they reported this abuse to their employers.

AB 1978 is one response to this reality.  The new state law requires the Division of Labor Standards Enforcement (DLSE) of the Department of Industrial Relations (DIR) to establish a requirement for in-person sexual violence and harassment prevention training for janitorial workers and employers by January 1, 2019.

By July 1, 2017, the DLSE must convene an advisory group that includes government officials, unions and labor-management groups, sexual assault victims advocacy groups, and other experts to assist with the development of this new requirement.

AB 1978 also requires all janitorial employers to register with the DLSE beginning July 1, 2018.  To register, employers must provide financial and management information, show that they do not possess certain liabilities, such as unpaid wages and certain taxes, and, beginning January 1, 2020, show that they have complied with the new sexual violence and harassment training requirement.  DLSE will create a public, online janitorial employer registration database.  Employers must be registered to conduct business in the state, and employers who fail to register can be subject to fines of up to $10,000.  In addition, any person or entity who contracts with an unregistered janitorial contractor will also be subject to fines of up to $10,000 for a first-time violation, and up to $25,000 for repeat violations.  Thus, entities that hire or contract with janitorial contractors have an incentive to check the registry to ensure they are contracting with registered employers.

Finally, AB 1978 requires employers to maintain accurate records for up to 3 years of payroll, scheduling, and other information regarding janitorial employees’ working conditions.

AB 1978 was passed as a result of the organizing efforts of California janitors.  These efforts included a five-day fast in front of the state Capitol by 18 female janitors, most all of whom are survivors of rape or abuse.

By Minsu Longiaru | October 4, 2016

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