With the overwhelming participation in the #MeToo movement and the increasing national media coverage of sexual harassment claims and allegations, both New York State and New York City have passed a package of laws aimed at combating sexual harassment in the workplace.
On Thursday, August 23, 2018, New York State released draft model sexual harassment materials in preparation for October 9, 2018 employer compliance with its new sexual harassment laws. This included a new informational webpage, a model sexual harassment prevention policy, a model complaint form, model sexual harassment training materials and a frequently asked questions guide to the new sexual harassment laws.
By Sept. 6, New York City employers must display a poster in English and Spanish about anti-sexual harassment rights and responsibilities, designed by the NYC Commission on Human Rights. New York City employers must also distribute a fact sheet, created by the commission, about sexual harassment to their existing employees and to all new employees upon hire. The goal was that by October 9, every employer in New York state will have a written sexual harassment prevention policy in place and distribute it to its employees.
What you need to know
New York state has launched a website on Combating Sexual Harassment in the Workplace which includes a model sexual harassment policy and model training program that employers can adopt. It also includes complaint forms for workers, independent contractors, and vendor employees. If employees do not choose to copy these tools in full, their own policy must include a number of minimum standards such as:
- prohibit sexual harassment and provide examples of prohibited conduct that would constitute unlawful sexual harassment;
- include information concerning the federal and state statutory provisions concerning sexual harassment, remedies available and a statement that there may be applicable local laws;
- include a standard complaint form;
- include a procedure for the timely and confidential investigation of complaints and ensure due process for all parties;
- inform employees of their rights of redress and all available forums for adjudicating sexual harassment complaints administratively and judicially;
- clearly state that sexual harassment is considered a form of employee misconduct and that sanctions will be enforced against individuals engaging in sexual harassment and against supervisory and managerial personnel who knowingly allow such behavior to continue; and
- clearly state that retaliation against individuals who complain of sexual harassment or who testify or assist in any proceeding under the law is unlawful.
According to the New York Law Journal, many employers are also including more in their policies “such as a warning that false and malicious accusations may result in disciplinary action, a statement that investigations will be handled as confidentially as possible, and that participating in an investigation and reporting sexual harassment are also protected from retaliation.”
Mandatory Training – What will it cost your business
One of the most important aspects of these new laws is the mandatory employee training requirement. Every New York state employer must provide sexual harassment prevention training to all employees on an annual basis. Employers must ensure that sessions are interactive, a statement that is reiterated a number of times throughout the website. The purpose of interactive training is to give workers a chance to ask questions and give feedback. The model training program created by the New York State Department of Labor and the New York State Division of Human Rights is available on the Combating Sexual Harassment in the Workplace website.
According to the New York Law Journal, “beginning April 1, 2019, all New York City employers with 15 or more employees must provide this sexual harassment prevention training to all full- and part-time employees and interns annually, and to new employees within 90 days of hire.” All supervisors and managers must be included in this training. The training must specifically cover several topics, including:
- definitions and examples of sexual harassment;
- education on bystander intervention; and
- explanations for how to file complaints internally and with federal, state, and administrative agencies.
For employers who are worried about the cost of these trainings, fear not. The NYC Commission on Human Rights will create an interactive training module that will be available to employers free of charge. All training resources and models are available on the Combating Sexual Harassment in the Workplace for free download. However, since these government-created training programs will meet minimum legal requirements, employers should consider providing more detailed, in-person sexual harassment and anti-discrimination training programs to make sure their employees are getting the most information possible for their protection. All employees must receive compliant sexual harassment training on or before January 1, 2019.
To download the Model Sexual Harassment Prevention Training packet, click here.
For more in-depth, in-person sexual harassment and anti-discrimination training programs, please contact VertiSource HR.