11 Changes to New York State Sexual Harassment Laws

Yes, that does read correctly, 11 upcoming changes.  New York State legislators have passed multiple regulations related to sexual harassment in the workplace; training, policies, reporting, etc.  Many of these new regulations and rules are in the wake of the #MeToo movement and the many issues we have seen with sexual harassment in the workplace in a variety of industries, organizations and professions.  As leader’s we cannot tolerate harassment of any kind.  The new law(s) require employers to provide sexual-harassment training to all workers and much more.

The 11 changes to sexual harassment legislation (for now):

  1. October 9, 2018: As of now, and by October 9, 2018, employers in New York State must implement annual sexual-harassment training. The state is developing a model program, which can be used by employers.  Any training implemented must meet or exceed the minimal state requirements.  More to come on this area of change.

Training Requirements:

  1. “An explanation of sexual harassment and specific examples of inappropriate conduct.
  2. Detailed information concerning federal, state and local laws and the remedies available to victims of harassment.
  3. An explanation of employees’ external rights of redress and the available administrative and judicial forums for bringing complaints.”[i]

Sexual-Harassment Prevention Policy

The state is requiring organizations to adopt a sexual-harassment prevention policy and distribute to employees (yes now you must have a handbook of sorts), the expectations of the new requirements could vary from what your organization is currently using.  The state has strict requirements for organizations policies and procedures.  Be aware of expectations and implement accordingly.  The policy is required to include (for now):

  1. “A statement prohibiting sexual harassment and providing examples of what constitutes sexual harassment.
  2. 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.
  3. A standard complaint form.
  4. Procedures for a timely and confidential investigation of complaints that ensures due process for all parties.
  5. An explanation of employees’ external rights of redress and the available administrative and judicial forums for bringing complaints.
  6. 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.
  7. A statement that it is unlawful to retaliate against employees who report sexual harassment or who testify or assist in related proceedings.”[ii]

Senate Passes Comprehensive Strengthening of New York’s Sexual Harassment Laws

The Senate Bill

Guidance on Sexual Harassment for All Employers in New York State

These changes are significant across the state.  As leaders, we need to begin planning for training needs throughout the organization and updating policies and procedures.  The training should have a sign in and sign out sheet to ensure employees did attend and stayed to complete the training.  Recording the training to verify all were in attendance was a suggestion I recently heard at a training, but to also show new employees during the new hire orientation process.  Remember this is an annual training.  However, new hires need training as well.  Policies that are modified need to have signatures and witness signatures to verify receipt and understanding.  We are all learning about these changes together.  We need to be proactive and seek guidance, as these laws continue to change and evolve.  New York City has laws above and beyond state requirements (more to be written on this).  Continue to monitor for new updates coming out of Albany.  There are many legal seminars throughout the state on this topic, which will be helpful to organizations of all sizes.  More to be written on these new requirements in upcoming articles!

 

 

– Matthew Burr, HR Consultant

[i] https://www.shrm.org/resourcesandtools/legal-and-compliance/state-and-local-updates/pages/new-york-sexual-harassment-training.aspx

[ii] https://www.shrm.org/resourcesandtools/legal-and-compliance/state-and-local-updates/pages/new-york-sexual-harassment-training.aspx

5 Thoughts on Sexual Harassment Investigations

Recently, we have seen a significant number of workplace sexual harassment allegations and legal claims in the media.  Many of these allegations have been ignored for years, if not decades.  As organizational leaders, we have an obligation to take harassment claims of any nature seriously and address these claims proactively.  Investigating sexual harassment allegations, bullying, retaliation, etc. and addressing these issues is never easy, but it is necessary.

Below is a summary of my 5 thoughts on sexual harassment investigations:

  1. Take it Seriously: As recent news has shown us that ignoring a problem and/or covering it up isn’t a solution to any employee relations issues or sexual harassment claim. Employees should feel comfortable discussing these allegations with a supervisor, manager, business owner or the human resources department and have the confidence that the system will not fail them.  Make time to listen and address any concerns that are brought to your attention.  The worst thing we can do is ignore it or that make statements, that we are too busy to listen and proactively deal with the situation.
  2. Ensure Confidentiality: Organizations must protect the confidentiality of employee claims to the best of its ability.  Within protecting confidentiality, we must also conduct a prompt and proactive investigation.  Explain to the party putting forth the allegations and all individuals involved in the investigation process, that all information gathered will remain confidential, to the extent possible for an effective investigation.  However, organizations cannot guarantee absolute confidentiality to any party involved in the investigation.
  3. Provide Interim Protection: “Separating the alleged victim from the accused may be necessary to guard against continued harassment or retaliation. Actions such as a schedule change, transfer or leave of absence may be necessary; however, complaints should not be involuntarily transferred or burdened.  These types of actions could appear to be retaliatory and result in a retaliation claim.  The employer and the accuser must work together to arrive at an amenable solution.”[i]  Reinforce policies and communicate proactively with the party that has put forth the allegations.
  4. The Investigator: The appropriate investigator is necessary to ensure credibility of the investigation. Investigators must have the ability to investigate objectively without bias and remain neutral.  The investigator should have no stakes in the outcome.  There should be no personal relationships with either party involved in the situation.  Investigators need investigation skills that include; previous investigatory experience and working knowledge of labor and employment laws.  They must be able to build rapport with the parties involved, have attention to detail (notes, questions, fact-finding and summarizing) and the right temperament to conduct the interviews.  Investigating allegations is not easy.  Patience, efficiency and fluid communication is necessary to be effective.
  5. Investigation Closure: Ensure that thorough notes are documented throughout the process, interviews are closed out and the investigation ends. Loop closing communication is necessary to ensure investigations are effective and impactful.  Leaving the alleging party with no closure can lead to additional issues.  This does not mean communicating discipline, training and/or termination impacts.

Throughout my career, I have conducted many workplace investigations, including; harassment, bullying, retaliation, workplace violence, threats and sexual harassment.  Investigations are never easy, but they are necessary.  Doing the right thing isn’t always easy, but it is necessary.  If you are unsure on investigating or recognize that an internal investigation will not be effective and impactful, bring in a third party to assist the organization throughout the process and seek the necessary guidance to protect your workforce and your organization.

[i] https://www.shrm.org/resourcesandtools/tools-and-samples/how-to-guides/pages/howtoconductaninvestigation.aspx