Guidance for New York’s Sexual Harassment Laws – Reviewing the Policy and Compliance

By Christina Galasso, MST, CPA

In an effort to combat sexual harassment in the workplace, and as part of the 2018 Women’s Agenda for New York: Equal Rights, Equal Opportunity, Governor Cuomo signed into law the 2018-2019 NYS Budget updating the State’s sexual harassment laws.

On October 1, 2018, the State rolled out their first round of guidance related to the new laws on sexual harassment policies and required training in the workforce. The guidance stated that beginning this year on October 9, 2018, all NYS employers must adopt a sexual harassment policy that is compliant with the new law. This even includes employers with just one employee, affecting most, if not all, small business owners. The State’s “model sexual harassment prevention policy” sets the “minimum standard” that employers can build on. Employers with existing policies are allowed to modify their existing policy but must meet the minimum standards.
The policy must provide examples of conduct that would constitute unlawful sexual harassment with remedies available to victims. The policy must apply to all employees paid or unpaid (including interns), applicants for employment, and further expands to visitors, clients, volunteers, contractors, subcontractors, vendors, consultants or others providing services in the workplace.

Employers must make information available to employees about federal and state law on workplace sexual harassment, including a copy of a complaint form. The policy and the complaint form is required to specifically state that an individual filing a complaint, or any individual who assists in an investigation or proceeding, will not be retaliated against.

Furthermore, NYS has elaborated on the training requirements set by the law that requires every employee to receive annual sexual harassment prevention training beginning next year on October 9, 2019. NYS has provided an example of the “model training” developed by the Department of Labor and the Division of Human Rights on their website. Employers that do not choose to use their model must ensure that the training they provide meets the minimum standards or exceeds them. In addition, the training must be interactive therefore merely watching a video on sexual harassment will not suffice. NYS has instructed that videos alone are not interactive. Interactive training may include a question and answer session following a video; asking for feedback from employees on the training materials that were presented; or running through hypothetical scenarios and how those scenarios would be handled.

The NYS website contains downloads and links to YouTube videos that meet all the State’s standards, except for the interactive portion, however they do provide guidance on what the interactive portion should include. They also provide sample policies and posters that can be downloaded and displayed in the workforce. An overview of the changes regarding policy and training, with a link to a YouTube video, can be found on the NYS website for employers.

For more information, feel free to contact our office and check out the NYS Combating Sexual Harassment in the Workforce site for employers by clicking here.