New York Says “#MeToo” to Mandatory Sexual Harassment Prevention Policies and Annual Training Programs

New York now joins California, Connecticut, and Maine in mandating that employers provide very specific and detailed sexual harassment policies to their employees and rigorous training for their supervisors in an effort to prevent sexual harassment before it occurs in the workplace. Recent amendments to the NYS Human Rights Law require that, effective October 9, 2018, NY employers with one or more employees implement specific written sexual harassment prevention policies and provide comprehensive, interactive sexual harassment training to supervisors at least once a year.

In addition, the amendments have extended the protections under NYS law against sexual harassment to include contractors, subcontractors, vendors, consultants, or other individuals providing services in an employer's NYS workplace. NYS employers should immediately revise their sexual harassment policies and procedures to reflect this broader scope of coverage and to include these non-employees in anti-harassment training programs.

The NYS Department of Labor and NYS Division of Human Rights have been tasked with developing both a model sexual harassment policy and a model sexual harassment training program. NYS employers are required to either adopt the model policy and training program or to develop their own, which must meet or exceed the minimum standards set forth in the legislation and/or in the model policy and program developed by the agencies.

The model sexual harassment policy must include, among other information, examples of:

  • prohibited conduct;
  • state and federal laws concerning sexual harassment and the remedies available to victims;
  • a standard complaint form;
  • a procedure for investigating complaints;
  • information for employees regarding their rights and all available forums for adjudicating complaints and;
  • an anti-retaliation provision.

The training must be interactive and cover several topics including the following:

  • an explanation of sexual harassment and examples of unlawful conduct;
  • the state and federal laws concerning sexual harassment and the remedies available to victims;
  • conduct and responsibilities of supervisors and;
  • employees' rights and available forums for adjudicating complaints.

Not to be left out, 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. The NYC law against sexual harassment now applies to all NYC employers that have one or more employees. In addition, beginning in September, 2018, NYC employers will be required to conspicuously display a new poster in the workplace and provide all new hires with a handout that includes the following information: (i) a description of sexual harassment and an explanation that it is unlawful under federal, state and local law; (ii) examples of sexual harassment; (iii) information about the City, State and federal administrative complaint processes; and (iv) an explanation of the prohibition against retaliation for claiming sexual harassment.

Effective April 1, 2019, employers with 15 or more employees must provide interactive anti-harassment training to their employees, including interns, based in NYC. While there is significant overlap between the NYS and NYC laws with respect to this training, there are also significant differences. For example, the training provided by NYC employers must include all of the elements of required training under NYS law, but it also must be participatory, and may be conducted either by a live trainer or in an interactive computer-based or online format. The training must also include information about the importance of bystander intervention to curb workplace harassment.

In addition, NYC employers are required to provide employees who work more than 80 hours/year with the training within 90 days of their hire, effectively requiring most NYC employers to conduct trainings on a frequent basis; employers that engage in year-round hiring may need to conduct trainings at least quarterly. Employers must keep records verifying that the training was completed, including signed employee acknowledgement forms, for three years.

All NYS employers (including NYC employers) are advised to promptly evaluate and revise their existing sexual harassment policies and training programs to ensure compliance with the specific requirements of the new state law, since the implementation deadline is just four short months away. Handbooks also need to be brought into compliance with these new laws.

Employers in NYC, however, are advised that they have additional requirements with which they must comply, including the displaying the new poster and distributing the handout to new employees, unless it has been incorporated into the employee handbook.

Although NYS and NYC will set forth a model sexual harassment policy and training program, it's advisable to have the policy and training program you plan to adopt reviewed by a professional to ensure it's in compliance with the requirements.

Excelerator offers all employment policies and handbook reviews as well as webinar, in-person and learning management system dynamic video training and quizzes on sexual harassment prevention as well as printed reports / certificates to certify annual sexual harassment training compliant with state and city requirements.

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