California law imposes various requirements on employers who hire minors.  In addition to rules regarding the use of certain equipment (such as knives and balers) and requiring school-approved work permits, as of January 1, 2021, public and private sector employers with five or more employees must comply with Assembly Bill (“AB”) 1963.  The new law designates “human resources employees” and supervisors of minors as “mandated reporters” under the California Child Abuse and Neglect Reporting Act (“CANRA”).  It also requires employers to provide written notice and one-time training for all non-minor employees covered by the Act.

The Child Abuse and Neglect Reporting Act

In 1980, California adopted the CANRA, which requires certain individuals who are likely to become aware of potential child abuse and/or neglect to report such matters to law enforcement and social welfare authorities. These individuals are known as “mandated reporters.” Over the years, the Act has been amended several times to add to the definition of mandated reporters based on different professional and volunteer activities. In 2020, California adopted AB 1963, which amended the CANRA to add “human resources employees” and supervisors of minors to the definition.

Who Must Report?

As of the beginning of this year, “human resources employees” and adults who work directly with and/or supervise minors now are included in the list of mandated reporters.  The law broadly defines “human resources employees” to include any employee whom the employer designates to receive complaints of misconduct, such as discrimination or harassment.  So, even supervisors who do not directly supervise or work with minors may be considered mandated reporters under the CANRA, if they are authorized by the employer to accept complaints from employees.

What Information Must Be Reported?

Mandated reporters typically are required to report physical abuse, sexual abuse—including sexual assault and sexual exploitation—and neglect. Mandated reporters may, but are not required to, report emotional abuse. The law limits the obligations of adults who supervise minors, and only requires them to report suspected sexual abuse.  However, given the broad definition of “human resources employees,” adult employees who supervise minors likely are included in this definition, and must report any type of suspected abuse and neglect.

Filing a Mandated Report

As soon as practicable, mandated reporters must report known or suspected child abuse or neglect by contacting the police or sheriff’s office, the county welfare department, or, in certain counties, the county probation department.  Mandated reporters also must submit a written report within 36 hours of the initial contact.  The written report must be made on a Suspected Child Abuse Report form (Form BCIA 8572) also known as the “SCAR” form. Mandated reporters may report such matters internally, but this step will not satisfy their obligations under the law, unless they are certain the employer has taken immediate steps to file the report as required by law. If they mandated reporter has reason to believe the employer did not file the report, they must file the report themselves to avoid liability.

Legal Protections for Mandated Reporters

Mandated reporters must disclose their identity when filing a report, but it will remain confidential and only be disclosed as-needed to investigate the concern, or as ordered by a court. The law protects mandated reporters from civil and criminal liability for filing a mandated report in good faith, and the State provides reimbursement for mandated reporters’ legal fees if they must defend themselves against claims related to their good faith report.

Consequences of Failing to Report

The consequences for failing to report suspected child abuse or neglect are significant. Mandated reporters who fail to report are guilty of a misdemeanor and may be sentenced to up to six months in the county jail, be ordered to pay a $1,000 fine, or both. If, as a result of the mandated reporter’s failure to report, the child suffers severe injury or death, the penalties increase to one year in county jail, payment of a $5,000 fine, or both.

Employer Obligations

Prior to a mandated reporter starting work for an employer, the employer must provide the employee written notice of their responsibilities under the CANRA.  The notice must explain the employee’s obligations as a mandated reporter, and the confidentiality requirements and safeguards under the law. The employer must also provide the employee with a copy of California Penal Code sections 11165.7, 11166, and 11167.

Employers also are required to train mandated reporters regarding the identification of child abuse and/or neglect and the associated reporting procedures. Unlike other mandated training, such as California’s EEO compliance training, covered employees must receive mandated reporter training only once.  However, it is a best practice to do so periodically to ensure covered employees remember their obligations under the law.

Although employers may require employees to escalate suspicions of child abuse or neglect internally, they cannot require mandated reporters to disclose the identity of the minor whom they believe is being mistreated.  Management also may not impede the mandated reporter’s ability to file a report. In addition, escalating the matter internally does not satisfy covered employees’ obligations under the law. If the mandated reporter has any reason to believe the employer did not file a report as required, the mandated reporter must do so themselves.  Anyone in the workplace who impedes a mandated reporter’s ability to file a report may be guilty of a misdemeanor, which is punishable by up to six months in county jail, payment of a $1,000 fine, or both.

Employers must be mindful of their obligations when hiring minors, and leaders are aware of their obligations when managing and supervising minors, and properly trained to do so.

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