Standing out against sexual harassment and assault has long been a taboo topic– that’s all finally changing. Due to development in the political climate and the popularity of #metoo, The Women’s March, and a number of other social movements, companies are changing the way they manage sexual assault in the workplace. Evidence of that change can be seen in New York’s new sexual harassment law.
While many companies have created or adopted sexual harassment policies in the past, New York has joined the small group of states which legally require employers to adhere to specific harassment requirements, along with California, Maine, and Connecticut.
What is New York’s new sexual harassment law?
There are a few notable parts to the new NY regulations. By October 9th of this year, all New York Employers must adopt a policy that meets the following regulations:
- First and foremost, prohibit sexual harassment by a definition consistent with the Department of Labor
- Provide examples of conduct which would be considered sexual harassment
- Include information around the federal and state statutory provisions concerning sexual harassment (ie what’s considered unlawful behavior and the repercussions of such behavior)
- Include information about remedies/resources available to victims of sexual harassment
- Include a complaint form
- Include a procedure for the timely and confidential investigation of complaints that ensures due process for all parties
- Inform employees of their rights to retract accusations and all available forums for addressing sexual harassment complaints fairly
- Clearly state that sexual harassment is considered a form of employee misconduct and that sanctions will be enforced against individuals engaging in sexual harassment and against supervisors who knowingly allow such behavior to continue
- Clearly state that retaliation against individuals who complain of sexual harassment is unlawful
The new anti-sexual harassment law in New York is aimed at reducing instances of assault and harassment through two core elements: training and prevention.
A more in-depth view of the new policy
We see that New York’s new sexual harassment law is aimed at reducing instances of assault and harassment by means of two core elements: training and prevention.
One of the biggest factors of the new anti-sexual harassment law is that it defines how employers should provide training for employees. For example, this training must include a clear definition of sexual harassment, as well as specific examples of inappropriate behavior.
The training must also include detailed information around federal, state, and local laws regarding sexual harassment as well as remedies and resources for victims. Lastly, these policies need to include an explanation of employee rights, information about how employees should report misconduct, and the training must be interactive for employees.
The second major element of the new policy lies in the prevention of sexual assault. This prevention model is designed to reduce instances of assault through access to information and resources. Providing a standard complaint form, for example, makes it easier for anyone to report instances of sexual assault in a dignified and private way. It’s crucial that the complaint form is circulated to all new employees, that is is easily accessible and considered public knowledge.
Employers have the choice to either create their own guide on these topics or follow the predetermined rulebook outlined by New York State. If they choose to craft their own policy, it must meet all of the same aforementioned requirements.
How is this different from the law in place before?
New York’s new sexual harassment law is much more stringent than previously existing regulations. Whereas training for sexual harassment was optional beforehand, it is now legally required. Any employers who fail to comply with adopting this training can face legal repercussions and/or fines.
Another difference is that the new law has been expanded to include non-employees. This helps protect the rights of those who aren’t employed full-time, such as freelancers, contractors, subcontractors, consultants, and others who work on a part-time or non-conventional basis.
Additionally, when employees do submit a sexual assault claim, the new legislation states that non-disclosure provisions cannot be included– unless the employee prefers that all parties be confidential. Moreover, employees have 21 days to decide if they want to include a non-disclosure provision and if they want to accept the terms of the settlement.
Employees should also be informed that after a settlement is agreed upon, the person who complained has up to seven days to revoke the agreement, and it will not be acted upon.
What does this mean for your New York business?
If you’re a New York-based business, you might be concerned about complying to these laws. This is especially true if you don’t currently have sexual harassment regulations in place. The good news is that many state agencies have created templates, guides, and program models for businesses to adopt in the event that they do not have their own independently crafted policies. These documents can be modified to meet the specific needs of your organization while still complying with New York’s new sexual harassment law.