Seyfarth Synopsis: As previously discussed here, on September 29, 2020, Governor Newsom signed AB 1963, an amendment to the Child Abuse and Neglect Reporting Act, which will become effective January 1, 2021. The revised Act imposes reporting and training requirements on new categories of employees. These changes may have a significant impact on industries like entertainment and fast food.

More Employees Deemed Mandatory Reporters

Through the Child Abuse and Neglect Report Act, California has long protected children in workplaces—with at least five employees—by requiring certain adults (i.e., “mandated reporters”) with whom those children interact to report abuse or suspected abuse. The Act now adds “human resource employees” as mandatory reporters of all types of suspected abuse, and any “adult person whose duties require direct contact with and supervision of minors in the performance of the minors’ duties” as mandated reporters of suspected sexual abuse.

The Act has a broad view of what it means to be a “human resource employee.” Accordingly, anyone designated to receive complaints within the organization—even if those lacking a title reflecting a “human resource” position—as well as those people having supervisory responsibility for any minors employed, now have responsibilities to report known or suspected abuse.

Expansion of Employee Training Requirements

Additionally, the Act now requires that employers of newly mandated reporters provide them with training in child abuse and neglect identification, and training in child abuse and neglect reporting. Employers can comply with these training requirements by having the mandated reporters complete the general online training offered by the Office of Child Abuse Prevention in the State Department of Social Services. That training can be found free of charge here, and covers topics such as the reason for reporting, what constitutes child abuse, what needs to be reported, when you need to report, and where you need to report.

While the law does not set forth a particular time frame within which employees must complete the training, employers should keep in mind that these training videos are quite lengthy. Thus, starting employees on the trainings right away (especially if you need to stagger your supervisory employees taking the trainings) will allow your company to come into compliance promptly.

What Happens If a Mandated Reporter Doesn’t Report Known or Suspected Abuse?

If a mandated reporter fails to report known or reasonably suspected child abuse or neglect, then the individual is guilty of a misdemeanor punishable by up to six months in jail or a $1,000 fine, or both. Mandated reporters can also be sued for damages, especially if the minor-victim or another minor is further victimized because of the failure to report.

The Impact of AB 1963

There can be little doubt that the impact of AB 1963 will be much more significant for some industries than others. This is unsurprising as some industries regularly employ minors (e.g., fast food), whereas others (e.g., law) almost never employ minors. For human resources professionals in those industries with high concentrations of minor employees, the additional training requirement imposed by the law will likely not seem all that onerous—human resources employees are accustomed to spending lots of time in training and being trained on personnel issues. But AB 1963’s reporting and training requirements are likely to have much more significant impacts for those non-human resource professionals who are now “mandated reporters.”

Consider the entertainment industry, which is massive within California. That industry hires a disproportionate number of minors relative to other industries (particularly when considering minors under sixteen-years-old). Because the concept of “mandated reporter” now extends to every adult person whose duties require direct contact with and supervision of minors, the category of mandated reporter may now include directors, producers, hair/makeup professionals, and wardrobe professionals within any organization employing more than five people, and those people may now be subject to the training requirements of the law, as well as the penalties for failure to meet its requirements.

It may well be that many sets, recording studios, and live theaters are populated by different entities for any one production, such that none of the involved organizations technically meets the five-employee threshold under the law. But, in light of the severity of the penalties for failure to comply with the law, organizations that employ minors within the entertainment industry would be well-advised to carefully examine both their headcount and the duties of their adult employees, so as to make a considered determination whether AB 1963 applies to their employees.

Similarly, the fast food industry also employs large numbers of minors. Restaurant locations generally have multiple levels of supervisors in each location, including shift supervisors, leads, and assistant managers, who may also be individuals whom employees are authorized to come to with complaints. These individuals now also have the potential to be “mandated reporters” subject to the training requirements and the ramifications of a failure to report. Employers within the fast food industry will also therefore need to look carefully at employee duties to determine who may reasonably fall under the mandated reporter definitions, and ensure that those employees are trained.

Workplace Solutions

For many employees in industries that employ minors, both identifying and reporting known or suspected abuse will be a completely new concept. Companies that employ minors will need to ensure these employees get up-to-date training on how to satisfy their mandatory reporting obligations. As always, please contact your Seyfarth counsel if you have any questions about how the new Act may apply to your employees and workplace.

Edited by Coby Turner