Revamping libel in the #MeToo world

The issue of sexual harassment in the workplace has launched scores of bills this year, including one that purports to expand libel protections for those who report misconduct.

Authored by Assemblywoman Jacqui Irwin (D-Thousand Oaks), AB 2770 would define “malice”–for the purposes of the privileged publication protection in current law — as the “state of mind arising from hatred or ill will, evidencing a willingness to vex, annoy, or injure another person,’ and would expand the privileged publication protection for workplace discussions of sexual harassment.

The bill also would protect three categories of information in expanding the definition of what is considered a privileged communication to include 1) “a complaint of sexual harassment by an employee to an employer based upon credible evidence,” 2) “communications by the employer to interested persons and witnesses regarding a complaint of sexual harassment during an investigation,” and 3) it would protect an employer’s right to state that the employer would not rehire an individual based on its determination that the former employee engaged in sexual harassment.

The California Chamber of Commerce is sponsoring the bill to halt the increase in libel actions against employers who must receive and relay information about their employees who are alleged to engage in sexual harassment.

The bill is eligible for a hearing after March 19.