New York State Requires ALL Employers to Take Measures to Prevent Sexual Harassment

Enforcement details still in development


New York Governor Andrew Cuomo signed a new law designed to prevent sexual harassment in the workplace as well as regulate how employers handle reported instances of harassment. With many high-profile cases in the news of prominent men who have engaged in sexual harassment and assault in the workplace, and the subsequent surge of the #MeToo movement, there has been an emerging consensus that proactive steps to prevent harassment are needed. While the issue of sexual harassment and assault impacts almost every facet of society, workplace harassment and assault in particular seem to be an arena that policy makers are focusing on when it comes to regulation.

What does the law do?

The new state laws governing workplace sexual harassment and assault have three major components that will impact employers:

1)      Requires all employers to develop sexual harassment and assault prevention policies;

2)      Requires all employers to conduct annual sexual harassment training for all employees;

3)      Prohibits employers from requiring mandatory non-disclosure and/or arbitration agreements of sexual harassment claims (unless these are part of a collective bargaining agreement).

What needs to be in the policy?

  • A statement prohibiting sexual harassment and examples of what constitutes harassment;
  • Information about federal, state, and local sexual-harassment laws and the remedies that are available to victims;
  • A standard complaint form;
  • A complaint procedure that ensures 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 non-retaliation statement for reporting sexual harassment or testifying or assisting in related proceedings.

What needs to be in the training?

First, it’s important to note that the training must be in person and interactive. The training must include:

  • 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.

When does the law take effect?

The law takes effect on October 9, 2018, but employers shouldn’t delay their efforts to comply with the law.

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How will the law be enforced?

One of the big remaining questions is how the state plans on enforcing compliance. The law itself gives broad power to the New York State Department of Labor to develop regulations to implement and enforce the law. The DOL was also tasked with developing model policies and training programs that would establish the minimum standards for compliance.

As these regulations are developed and announced HR One will provide updates.

What steps should organizations take now?

All employers should review their existing employee handbook and policies governing sexual harassment, the reporting and investigating of workplace complaints, and their corrective discipline and retaliation policies. HR One can review existing policies and, for organizations that do not have policies in place, HR One can develop policies that comply with the regulations and reflect human resource best practices.

HR One also offers training on a wide variety of topics, including sexual harassment. In addition to being able to provide the mandatory training for all employees, HR One can also customize training for supervisors and managers that can teach them how to properly prevent, report, and investigate claims of workplace sexual harassment.

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