According to the National Human Trafficking Hotline, California has had the highest number of reported cases of human trafficking in the country over the last six years, followed by Texas and Florida. Human trafficking victims include men and women, adults and children, and foreign nationals and United States citizens. Recent studies indicate that hotels and motels are common locations for sex trafficking.
In light of these startling statistics, now is a good time for employers to become informed about new legislation associated with human trafficking crimes and to implement or update their anti-human trafficking policies and practices.
New Legislation Imposes Training Requirements on Specific Industries
In September 2018, the California Legislature took proactive steps to counteract human trafficking by signing into law two measures that require employers in industries where workers are likely to encounter trafficking victims, to provide training that will prepare employees to recognize the signs of human trafficking and understand how to report those signs to the appropriate law enforcement agency. Both measures are scheduled to go into effect on January 1, 2019.
Senate Bill 970 amends the California Fair Employment and Housing Act to require a hotel or motel employer, by 2020, to provide 20 minutes of training to employees who are employed as of July 1, 2019, and likely to come into contact with victims of human trafficking, including, but not limited to, employees who work in a reception area, perform housekeeping duties, help customers in moving their possessions, or drive customers. Thereafter, the employer must provide training once every two years. For new employees hired after July 1, 2019, training must be completed within six months after hire.
Assembly Bill 2034 amends Section 52.6 of the California Civil Code to require operators of mass transit intercity passenger rail systems, light rail systems, and bus stations, on or before 2021, to provide employees who may interact with human trafficking victims with the same kind of training.
What The Legislation May Mean For Covered Businesses? Crack Down or Pay Up
The new legislation is a powerful tool to prevent certain industries from turning a blind eye to trafficking issues. While Senate Bill 970 permits the Department of Fair Employment and Housing, in the case of an employer violation of the bill’s requirements, to seek an order requiring compliance, violations of Assembly Bill 2034 can lead to civil penalties of $500 for a first offense, and $1,000 for each subsequent offense. Moreover, under California Penal Code § 236.1, victims of sex trafficking may bring separate civil suits against any entity that benefited in their exploitation. In light of the legal landscape and the trends regarding prevention of human trafficking, all employers should consider implementing an organization-wide zero-tolerance human trafficking policy that indicates the company’s position against abuse and exploitation and otherwise meets requirements under the new legislation.
This policy should provide clear guidelines regarding restricted employee activity, both while on company time (including work travel) and off company time. Further, employers should ensure that clear disciplinary policies and procedures are in place to enforce this policy and that such policies are uniformly followed. Finally, employers should train management and other employees on the company’s reporting policies and procedures pursuant to which all employees should be required to report any potential or suspected violations of the policy. Importantly, employers should reassure employees that they may participate fully in any investigation or resolution of any such violation without fear of retaliation.