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The Law that a PBS Documentary Inspired: Sexual Harassment in the Janitorial Field

An investigative documentary aired by PBS last year brought attention to the plight of many female janitors who work the night shift. This award-winning film was a catalyst for change, and inspired California Assemblywoman Lorena Gonzalez to do something about this terrible problem. That something was Assembly Bill 1978, a new California Labor Law.

Rape on The Night Shift

The documentary that inspired AB 1978, "Rape on The Night Shift", aired on PBS on June 23, 2015. It focused on the stories of immigrant janitorial workers who had been assaulted at work. These women described sexual abuse at the hands of supervisors and co-workers, and their struggle to keep their jobs in the face of this heinous treatment. Several entities collaborated to complete the investigation and create the program: KQED, UC Berkeley's Investigative Reporting Program, Frontline, Reveal from the Center for Investigative Reporting, and Univision.

AB 1978 Protections

Assemblywoman Gonzalez from San Diego was moved to tears when she learned of the abuse that the women in the documentary had been subjected to. Eyes opened to the nightly assaults and other mistreatment, Gonzalez sponsored AB 1978. This bill provides additional worker protections for janitors. Governor Jerry Brown signed the bill into law on September 15, 2016.

This legislation will affect about 220,000 janitorial workers in California. Because it is a labor law, it will fall under the purview of the Labor Commissioner and the Division of Labor Standards Enforcement (DLSE). It calls for annual registration of janitorial employers with the Labor Commissioner. This registration will be required in order to conduct business. The Commissioner is permitted to revoke registration for cause. Other safeguards involve recordkeeping stipulations and sexual harassment prevention training requirements.

The new law seeks to prevent sexual assault and harassment with the following protections.

  • Informs workers in the janitorial field of their rights
  • Ensures these workers know who to contact if they experience harassment or assault on the job
  • Compels supervisors to undergo training
  • Holds contractors and employers legally responsible, and places their licenses at stake to help ensure compliance

Parts of the new law become effective on July 1, 2018. The training must be established by January 1, 2019. But even prior to these dates, if you or someone you know is experiencing sexual harassment at work in the janitorial field or elsewhere, seek the counsel of an established California employment law attorney. Your lawyer can help to safeguard your rights and pursue all available legal avenues.


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