New York Employers Must Provide Sexual-Harassment Training

Training requirements are part of sweeping anti-harassment legislation

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New York legislators have passed a number of initiatives in the wake of the #MeToo movement and widespread allegations of sexual harassment in the workplace—including a law requiring employers to provide sexual-harassment training to all workers.

The training requirement is standard, so employers that are already conducting comprehensive harassment training are probably covering the main points, said Melissa Osipoff, an attorney with Fisher Phillips in New York City. "The big thing now is that training will be required, whereas before it was up to employers."

[SHRM Online HR Q&A: What are the different types of sexual harassment?]

By Oct. 9, New York employers must implement annual sexual-harassment training. They can use a model program, which will be created by state agencies, or they can implement their own sexual-harassment training programs that meet or exceed state standards, explained Keith Markel, an attorney with Morrison Cohen in New York City.

The training must provide:

  • An explanation of sexual harassment and specific examples of inappropriate conduct.
  • Detailed information concerning federal, state and local laws and the remedies available to victims of harassment. 
  • An explanation of employees' external rights of redress and the available administrative and judicial forums for bringing complaints.

"Employers who do not have prevention guidelines, anti-harassment policies and training programs in place should develop and implement them immediately," said Marc Zimmerman, an attorney with Michelman & Robinson in New York City. Although the new law doesn't impose these obligations until Oct. 9, there simply is no reason to wait, he added.

The legislation follows Gov. Andrew Cuomo's statements earlier this year that he is committed to combatting workplace harassment. "Sexual harassment's pervasive abuse tears at the fabric of society and violates personal and public trust, and in New York we are taking every step to ensure that this abhorrent practice is stopped once and for all," he said in a January press statement.

Prevention Policy

In addition to providing training, New York employers must adopt a written sexual-harassment prevention policy and distribute it to employees. As with the training, state agencies will provide a model policy that employers may elect to use.

The policy must include:

  • A statement prohibiting sexual harassment and providing examples of what constitutes sexual harassment.
  • Information about federal and state sexual-harassment laws and the remedies that are available to victims—and a statement that there may be additional local laws on the matter.
  • A standard complaint form.
  • Procedures for a timely and confidential investigation of complaints that ensures due process for all parties.
  • An explanation of employees' external rights of redress and the available administrative and judicial forums for bringing complaints.
  • A statement that sexual harassment is a form of employee misconduct and that sanctions will be enforced against those who engage in sexual harassment and against supervisors who knowingly allow such behavior to continue.
  • A statement that it is unlawful to retaliate against employees who report sexual harassment or who testify or assist in related proceedings.

New York City

Employers in the Big Apple will have another set of anti-harassment laws to incorporate into their policies and training. The New York City Council passed the Stop Sexual Harassment in NYC Act, which covers 11 separate bills and will be one of the strictest anti-sexual-harassment laws in the country.

Among other obligations, the law will require employers with 15 or more workers in the city to conduct annual, interactive sexual-harassment training for all employees—including interns.

There is a lot of overlap between the state and city laws, but there are some additional obligations for New York City employers, Osipoff said. For example, the training must include information about the importance of bystander intervention to curb workplace harassment.

Managers and supervisors will need to be provided with additional training. "These sessions must cover, at a minimum, the specific responsibilities that supervisory and managerial employees have when it comes to preventing sexual harassment and retaliation, and measures they may take to appropriately address sexual-harassment complaints," Osipoff said, noting that new hires must be trained within 90 days.

Additionally, employers must keep training records for at least three years, as well as signed acknowledgement forms from the employees who attended.

The act is pending Mayor Bill de Blasio's signature, but he is expected to approve it.

"Once signed into legislation, New York City employers will be required to post mandatory, city-designed sexual harassment posters," noted Keith Gutstein, an attorney with Kaufman Dolowich & Voluck in Woodbury, N.Y.

Compliance Tips

Even employers that already have comprehensive policies and training in place should review the new laws and tweak their existing programs as necessary, Zimmerman said.

When developing and implementing programs, employers should not rely on sample documents from friends or colleagues, he added. Although protections may be similar, procedures for one employer may not work as well in another environment.

"Employers are encouraged to work with their favorite HR professionals and employment lawyers to develop and implement policies and processes that make sense for their companies," he said.

It is in an employer's best interest to have a user-friendly and effective complaint procedure in place to ensure a harassment-free workplace, noted Regina Faul, an attorney with Phillips Nizer in New York City. "A workplace training program benefits an employer by ensuring its employees know the policy and procedure exist, are familiar with how to use them and understand the practical use of the procedure."

 

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