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New York Implements Sexual Harassment Guidelines for Employers

Often on the cutting edge of workplace legislation, New York lawmakers recently passed a number of measures designed to reduce the risk of sexual harassment in the workplace.

New York employers must provide annual sexual harassment training, according to one such measure that is scheduled to go into effect October 9. Companies are welcome to use a model program created by state agencies, but also have free reign to implement their own sexual-harassment training programs, provided they meet or exceed state requirements. Specifically, such training offerings must include:

  • An explanation of sexual harassment and specific examples of what constitutes inappropriate conduct
  • Detailed information regarding federal, state and local laws and the solutions available to victims of harassment
  • An explanation of employees’ external “rights of redress” and information on the available administrative and judicial pathways for lodging complaints

Further, employers in the Empire State must now have a written sexual-harassment prevention policy in place that must be posted and distributed to employees. Once again, the state has provided a model policy, but companies are free to develop their own, provided it meets or exceeds the state’s offerings. Specifically, 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, as well as a statement that there may be additional local laws on the matter
  • A standard complaint form and information on how to lode the complaint
  • Procedures for a timely and confidential investigation of complaints that ensure due process for all involved 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

In addition, pending the receipt of New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio’s signature, New York City employers will need to comply with a slate of 11 separate bills developed by the New York City Council under the Stop Sexual Harassment in NYC Act. While there is a degree of overlap between the state and city laws, one additional requirement is for employers with 15 or more workers in the city to conduct annual, interactive sexual-harassment training for all employees, including interns. Further, managers and supervisors working in the city will be required to attend 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,” notes Melissa Osipoff, an attorney with Fisher Phillips in New York City.

Additionally, employers must keep training records for at least three years, as well as signed acknowledgment forms from the employees who attended. De Blasio is expected to approve the measure shortly, giving New York City one of the most comprehensive anti-harassment laws in the nation.

Commenting on the need for the more stringent laws, New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s said 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.

In terms of preparing for the upcoming legislation, Marc Zimmerman, an attorney with Michelman & Robinson in New York City, notes that “employers who do not have prevention guidelines, anti-harassment policies and training programs in place should develop and implement them immediately,” adding that even though the new law doesn’t go into effect until the fall, there simply is no reason to wait. He further notes that “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.”

If you have any questions about whether your own sexual harassment policy is in compliance with the new laws, feel free to reach out to us at Abel HR via email or at (800) 400-1968 and we can have our professional team help you get it up to code.

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