Strict Workplace Training on Sexual Harassment Required in New York

Overview

Effective Oct. 9, 2018, all employers in New York State must adopt a written policy and conduct annual employee training on sexual harassment in the workplace.

The law does apply to all NYS companies with 15 or more employees.  Below is some information that an employer has to put in place.  Employers need to incorporate training and sexual harassment policy into their employee handbooks. Employees need to be made aware of the policy.

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.”

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.
  • The training must be interactive—but the precise definition of “interactive” won’t be clear until the state releases its model training. Employers can then choose whether to adopt the model training prepared by the state or develop their own, as long as their policies and training meet or exceed the standards contained in the model.

New York employers will likely be able to choose between in-person and computer-based training, as long as it is interactive.  “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 ensure 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.

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.”