Despite multiple laws combating discrimination at the workplace, sexual harassment remains the most frequent and pervasive type of inappropriate workplace conduct. For this reason, regulations and measures against sexual harassment have been tightening and are only expected to grow less permissive and more punitive.
Sexual Harassment Regulations For New York State And New York City Are Stricter Than Ever
Sexual harassment at the workplace is unlawful in New York State, with additional restrictions for employers in New York City. In recent years, several amendments have been made to existing sexual harassment laws, namely:
- Broadening definitions of what constitutes "sexual harassment". Whereas in the past, sexual harassment had to be proven to be "severe" and "pervasive", those terms/requirements have been removed from new legislature
- Extending the statute of limitations: prior to new amendments, a victim of sexual harassment had one year to file a claim with the New York state: this time window has been changed to three years
As such, all New York state and city employers must familiarize themselves with the most updated legislature and educational requirements on the topic of workplace discrimination (and, more specifically, with what constitutes sexual harassment
) and do what it takes to stay legally compliant. However, New York state and city employers are advised to do more than the bare minimum, as it is imperative to get serious about keeping the work environment safe
for all employees: failure to do so will only cost more, long-term.
This begins with providing effective, up-to-date sexual harassment prevention training
to all of their employees. The employer's earnest commitment to the cause of rooting out inappropriate conduct will pay off with more than simply being compliant with the law. New York employers who take the anti-sexual harassment cause seriously are rewarded with contented, productive employees, a lack of costly legal problems, a good reputation in the industry, and a good standing with employee rights watchdog agencies.
Let's review the latest updates in anti-sexual harassment regulations and training requirements for New York State and New York City.
Sexual Harassment Training Requirements For New York State
Sexual harassment training is mandated by law for all employees in New York State, requiring annual sexual harassment refresher training. As of October 9, 2018, this law applies to:
- All employers, no matter what size, who employ anyone in New York state
- All company employees (including interns, freelancers, etc.) -- no longer limited to supervisors
- All contractors who bid on contracts to provide goods/services to the New York state government
The anti-harassment training of employees may take the form of in-person or online training. However, the training must be be "interactive", meaning that employees must be able to participate and be given a chance to ask questions and receive answers to them.
The New York State encourages the training of new employees as soon as possible, considering that employers become liable for the actions of their new hires right away.
Additional Sexual Harassment Training Requirements For New York City
The Stop Sexual Harassment NYC Act
, signed into law by Mayor Bill DeBlasio in 2018, stresses the need for training requirements more than ever. In accordance with Local Law 96
of 2018, NYC employers with 15 or more employees are required to conduct annual sexual harassment training for all -- full-time and part-time -- employees who work 80+ hours within a calendar year.
New employees who did not receive training for sexual harassment from their previous employer within the previous year, must receive training within 90 days of being hired.
NYC employee sexual harassment training requirements are similar but not the same as those of NY state. For example, NYC law makes separate provisions for incorporating "bystander intervention" into the required training. Therefore, it should be noted that, while NYC training satisfies NY state training requirements, the reverse does not apply: NYC employers must satisfy NYC training requirements, as they are somewhat differently structured than those of the New York state.
Sexual Harassment Training Deadline
The last official cut-off date for sexual harassment training set by the New York State Labor Law was October 9, 2018. At the time, that was the date by which all existing New York employees had to have received and completed anti-harassment training.
Since then, all New York employers must administer annual sexual harassment training to all employees. The dates of the annual training can correspond with any arbitrary date (such as the anniversary of the employee's start date) as long as it is delivered by December 31 of the first year of employment, and before December 31 of every subsequent calendar year thereafter.
Employer Responsibility In Sexual Harassment Prevention
In addition to providing the above-described sexual harassment prevention training to all employees on an annual basis, all New York State employers must adopt a sexual harassment prevention policy. It can be the model sexual harassment policy offered by the state
or an analogous one that meets (and preferably exceeds) the following minimum standards:
- The policy must articulate the prohibition of sexual harassment in line with the guidelines provided by the Department of Labor in tandem with the Division of Human Rights.
- The policy must provide concrete examples that accessibly illustrate scenarios that constitute "sexual harassment".
- The policy should offer information regarding the federal and state statutory provisions, remedies available to victims, and any additional local laws (such as in the case of New York City).
- A complaint form must be made available/accessible to employees.
- There must exist a procedure in place for instances of complaints: it must be timely and respectful of all parties' privacy.
- Employees must be informed of their rights and educated about the administrative and judicial options they have for filing complaints and seeking justice for themselves.
- The policy must state in no uncertain terms that sexual harassment is a form of employee misconduct that will not be tolerated; that disciplinary actions will be taken against employees engaging in inappropriate conduct, including all supervisors/managers that had been aware but failed to take proper measures to put an end to such conduct.
Employee Rights As Victims Of Workplace Sexual Harassment In New York
Victims of sexual harassment at the workplace have the right to take a series of escalating actions.
Usually, the first step to take is to file an internal (HR) sexual harassment complaint within the company. If the employer takes immediate corrective/disciplinary action to investigate and put an end to harassing / inappropriate behavior that ensures the safety and privacy of the victim -- and achieves a fair resolution of the problem to the victim's satisfaction -- the matter may be left at that.
In cases when employers fail to respond with the appropriate seriousness and timeliness to the complaint, employees have the right to lodge claims on the state level with the New York State Division of Human Rights (DHR), on the federal level, with the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC), as well as to take employers to court.
A complaint with the DHR should be filed at the DHR office within the city/county in which the employee works, within three years of the last alleged act of misconduct.
The victim of sexual harassment can also file a "Charge of Discrimination" with the EEOC, though not employers are covered by the laws that EEOC enforces (for example, it only applies to employers with 15 or more employees). Victimized employees have 180 days from the inappropriate incident to file the charge.
Employees can also file a discrimination lawsuit against their employers in state of federal court. If they elect to take their cases to court, they are required to file the EEOC charge before proceeding with taking legal action.
In cases of physical touching or assault, employees also have the right to involve the police.
It should be noted that it is unlawful for employers to retaliate in any way against employees for reporting them for sexual harassment. Employees who experience retaliation are protected by the Human Rights Law and have the right to complain about retaliation to the DHR. In New York City, employees can report discriminatory acts to the New York City Commission On Human Rights.
Consequences Of Noncompliance With Sexual Harassment Laws In New York
Sexual harassment violates US federal, NY state, and New York City local laws. Therefore, employers operating in New York State and City are subject to a variety of multi-tiered government and legal fines for non-compliance.
On the federal level, sexual harassment at the place of work goes against the Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 as a form of "sex discrimination", and is subject to investigation and potential legal action by the EEOC (e.g. if it uncovers a violation, the agency may file a federal court case).
Failing to prevent sexual harassment at work likewise violates the New York state labor law 201-G. Because of the way provisions are structured, each employee may represent more than one violation of the law. With fines starting at $100 for the first violation and snowballing for subsequent violations, a mid-sized company could be looking at tens of thousands of dollars in government fines, not to mention all the legal fees and payouts to victims if the case goes to court.
For New York City employers, violators can be held responsible with civil penalties of up to $250,000, if the case constitutes a "willful violation" of the law (e.g. if the employer could but did not safeguard the company against sexual harassment scenarios by failing to provide training). The New York City Commission on Human Rights is within the authority to assess emotional distress damages and other remedies to the victims and may require the violating employers to undergo training, community service, and other educational and civic penance.
At the end of the day, not doing due diligence with proper training and ending up in violation of sexual harassment laws can result in mounting catastrophes for any enterprise. Between the loss of good workers, extreme financial expenditures, and the reputation of noncompliance with the law, a company can suffer irreversible losses that could, ultimately, end its operations. The good news is that the severe penalties are avoidable if:
- as soon as the employer becomes aware of inappropriate conduct at the place of work, they take immediate, actionable measures to resolve and eradicate it
- the employer commits to taking preemptive, preventative measures against allowing sexual harassment before a hostile work environment even has a chance to materialize (e.g. getting the best training for their employees)
Annual Sexual Harassment Prevention Training Is Key To Sexual Harassment Prevention
Given that sexual harassment policy and training are required by multiple laws, all employers in the state of New York state and New York City ought to consider getting not just the first available, but the best sexual harassment prevention training program for their employees. After all, your employees deserve the safest work environment and your company deserves a maximally productive workforce.
EasyLlama offers an excellent New York State sexual harassment training program
(and City compliant, of course), rooted in the latest science and technology, and optimized for today's mobile workforce. The online training program is easy for the employer to install and run -- and simple, non-exhausting, and actually fun for employees to engage with. This is not the mind-numbing HR compliance training of yore! Our new generation sexual harassment prevention training program is delivered in digestible interactive online training sessions that "register" with trainees emotionally and professionally, helping them not just go through the motions but understand
the problems of sexual harassment and, hence, cooperate toward a safer workplace for all.