Friday, August 17, 2018

New York mandates sexual harassment training

Any employers worth their salt have had sexual harassment policies in place for years now. At most workplaces, you are given the policy on Day One of your employment and you likely receive reminders on its existence and use.

That won’t cut it anymore in New York State.

And almost all employers don’t know that.

That’s because hidden deep within the state budget (which in theory but not practice is supposed to be just a spending bill), on page 83 to be exact, was a new law that mandates sexual harassment policies and training for all employers and their employees in the Empire State.

The deadline for implementation of these new standards is fast approaching. The law and, in turn, its revised policies and in-person training go into effect on October 9th and must be accomplished by year end. Most of the unknowing private sector is now facing crunch time to both update and initiate, which is a laborious task because employers will have to throw out most everything they’ve ever done, have their legal counsel review their new standards, develop a training program, and schedule chunks of workdays for training.

Looking over the law, which not only was a direct response to the #MeToo movement but also a political tit for tat as New York Governor Cuomo was intent on beating his adversary New York City Mayor de Blasio to the punch (NYC also passed their own standards this spring), the policies and methods utilized by many managers will need some serious tweaking.

You will need to look through your current employee handbook and make sure it meets the law. Your sexual harassment policy must have: a corporate statement prohibiting sexual harassment; a statement that sexual harassment is a form of employee misconduct and sanctions will be enforced against individuals engaging in sexual harassment and managers and supervisors who knowingly allow such behavior to continue; info about local, state and federal laws related to sexual harassment; a designated complaint form; examples of conduct and behavior that could or would constitute sexual harassment; a defined procedure for timely and confidential investigation of complaints which includes due process for all parties; and a statement that retaliation against individuals reporting sexual harassment or who testify or assist in any proceeding is unlawful.

There’s a lot to digest, but it doesn’t end there.

The law also mandates that employers provide training on an annual basis, not just at the point of hire. In all its nebulousness, the regulations require that it be “interactive”. It doesn’t define “interactive” but at a minimum it likely means that it has to be done in person (or, in this modern era, online) and in detail – there is no more handing out the policy and considering that the end of discussion.

In your seminar you must: provide an explanation of what sexual harassment is; give examples of sexual harassment; talk about local, state, and federal laws concerning sexual harassment and remedies available to victims; and discuss employees’ right of redress and all available forums for handling complaints. I repeat: This has to be administered every single year.

If this seems like a lot, and you dread the bill associated with having your lawyer redesign your entire sexual harassment system and you don’t feel that you are competent enough to design from scratch a classroom experience, the state budget required that the New York State Department of Labor and the Division of Human Rights develop a standard sexual harassment policy and training module that employers could use. Last week, I reached out to Human Rights to see if all of this was yet available -- and it is not. I encourage you to check their website later in September.  

This is far and away the most expansive sexual harassment law in the nation. No other state, no other jurisdiction, mandates training for all employees. By comparison, California requires training for only the managers and supervisors of employers with 50 or more workers. New York’s law has no limitation on job title or size. All employees in all businesses need the training – it doesn’t matter if they work for a landscaper or pizza shop employing 6 people or retail store or factory employing 100 – every worker needs it.   

All employers, through good and ethical business practice, should have had a policy to begin with. If they did have one, they’ll have to change what they’ve been doing, some a little, some a lot. If they didn’t have one, consider this the much-needed wake-up call to catch up with the times and do what is necessary entrepreneurially, socially, and -- now -- legally.

From the 20 August 2018 Greater Niagara Newspapers and Batavia Daily News

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