New York State and New York City recently passed new, expanded legislation to strengthen protections against sexual harassment in the workplace. In light of the new requirements, if you’re doing business in New York, now’s the time to review and update your anti-sexual harassment policies and procedures, training schedules and hiring practices to ensure you’re complying with the new laws.
Focus on annual training
Both the new State and City laws make annual sexual harassment prevention training mandatory. Effective October 9, 2018, NY State law requires that private and public employers, regardless of size, conduct annual training. Employers must also develop and distribute a written sexual harassment prevention policy.
For New York City employers, the Stop Sexual Harassment in NYC Act, which comes into effective on April 1, 2019, requires that private employers with 15 or more workers provide annual, interactive sexual harassment training to all employees, including interns, supervisors and managers, after working 90 days on the job. Online interactive training programs can be used to satisfy the training requirement.
End to nondisclosure agreements
In addition to the new sexual harassment training and policy requirements, starting July 11, 2018, New York employers cannot include non-disclosure clauses in sexual harassment settlements or agreements, unless the individual making the harassment complaint prefers it. The State law also bans mandatory arbitration clauses in sexual harassment settlements.
Another significant change is a new provision that expands sexual harassment protections to non-employees. As a result, organizations can be liable for allowing − and not taking appropriate action to stop − sexual harassment against contractors, subcontractors, vendors, consultants and other individuals providing services in the workplace.
Make room for anti-harassment posters
Effective September 6, 2018, all NYC employers must prominently display an anti-sexual harassment rights and responsibilities poster in the workplace, and hand out an information sheet on sexual harassment to all new hires. The poster will be designed by the NYC Commission on Human Rights. Sexual harassment protections under the NYC Human Rights Law are among the strongest in the nation. The Law protects individuals against any unwanted sexual behavior, including touching, crude jokes, lewd comments, gestures, texts or emails that create a hostile or offensive work environment.
Later this summer, the NYC Human Rights Commission will launch a new Sexual Harassment Unit to focus specifically on workplace sexual harassment in the private sector. The unit, the first of its kind in the US, will have a staff dedicated to helping targets of sexual harassment and bringing violators to justice.
Sexual harassment policies
Effective October 9, 2018, all employers in New York State must adopt and distribute a sexual harassment prevention policy. At a minimum, the policy should:
- Explicitly prohibit sexual harassment in the workplace
- Provide examples of unwelcome conduct, which may constitute sexual harassment
- Inform employees about applicable federal, state and local sexual harassment laws
- Contain a standard complaint form
- Include a procedure for the timely and confidential investigation of complaints
- Inform employees of their rights of redress and available forums for resolving claims
- Explain that sexual harassment is a form of employee misconduct that can result in adverse employment consequences for the harasser, as well as any manager or supervisor who knowingly allows such behavior to continue
- Clearly state that it is unlawful to retaliate against individuals who complain of sexual harassment or who testify or assist in any proceedings
Sexual harassment training
Also effective October 9, 2018, New York State employers will be required to provide all employees with annual training to prevent sexual harassment. An effective training program should:
- Clearly explain what sexual harassment is and the various forms it can take in terms that employees can easily understand
- Provide examples of different behaviors that constitute sexual harassment – sexual harassment can be verbal, nonverbal, physical and visua
- Incorporate bystander intervention training to teach employees who witness inappropriate conduct how to step in and interrupt the offensive behavior before it becomes illegal harassment
- Describe what retaliation is and why it is unlawful to “fire, demote, harass or take other adverse action” against an employee who files a complaint or participates in an internal investigation
- Explain your internal process for filing complaints of sexual harassment and retaliation
Organizations doing business in New York should already be preparing to comply with new sexual harassment laws at the state and city level. The process should include evaluating and most likely revising your sexual harassment policies, procedures, sensitivity training programs and hiring practices. The new laws in New York and many other states are sending a strong message that organizations are best served by taking a holistic approach to preventing sexual harassment in the workplace. A strong, effective training program can be a cornerstone of your strategy to create a harassment-free, respectful workplace and culture in the #MeToo era.