Last summer, Mayor Bill de Blasio signed into law the Stop Sexual Harassment in NYC Act. This expansive set of laws attempts to ensure that employers and employees are informed of their rights and responsibilities to allow for a safe and comfortable workplace. Here are some key provisions and some thoughts for employers on implementing the new rules.
Each year, employers with at least 15 employees must provide a city-compliant training on sexual harassment. This training must explain what sexual harassment is, use examples to further this explanation, and provide an internal process for dealing with complaints. Employers may not retaliate against employees for making a sexual harassment complaint, and training must include resources on how to engage in bystander intervention. Further, any supervisory and managerial employees must have and make clear what specific responsibilities they have in the prevention of sexual harassment and retaliation.
If you’re an employer, you have to make sure you’re complying with these training requirements. New York provides access to a Commission-created training portal in English or Spanish. The Commission also provides a model policy for employers to use. This is the bare minimum for compliance under local laws; your company may need or deserve more comprehensive training.
Bystanders are those who bear witness to workplace sexual harassment. It can be hard for a bystander to come forward and speak out against the behavior of a coworker. There’s a fear of retaliation, or other stigmas which may dissuade someone from speaking up. Part of the mandatory training instituted through is act is meant to help individuals better understanding sexual harassment in the workplace and address it. The aim here is to improve the work environment, ensuring all can earn a living and enjoy their work lives while feeling safe. As an employer, you have both the responsibility and opportunity to shape your employees lives for the better. It’s to everyone’s benefit to create a culture of trust which encourages bystanders to help their coworkers.
In NYC, it’s against the law to do anything to retaliate against employees for speaking out against sexual harassment at work. Retaliation can come in many forms - words, actions, decrease in hours, demotions, and even termination. Even if it turns out the employee is wrong, they are still protected from retaliation.
Employers have to keep a record of all trainings, including an employee signed acknowledgment, which must be retained for at least three years.
In my opinion, this is the most important part of the law, and the part more susceptible to flaws and failure. Every company subject to this law must establish a set of internal procedures to ensure both compliance with the law and how the company will address complaints once made. These policies need to provide confidence in your employees that they will be executed with integrity, otherwise they fail to meet their objectives. Each company is different, and has a different hierarchy and reporting structure. Some companies have dedicated HR Departments, and other have the human resource role undertaken by someone tasked with additional unrelated responsibilities. These and other distinctions make a single overarching recommendation impossible. It’s therefore likely that you’ll benefit from consulting with a professional on the subject to tailor procedures to your company’s needs.
If you’re an employer you probably have a lot on your plate, so how do you comply with this new law without it taking up all your time? What should you be considering here?
Well, you can start with simply incorporating the model policy and offering the Commission’s training, but even that will likely require you to coordinate with your general counsel, or other legal counsel, so ensure full compliance and record keeping obligations are met.
BUT! Maybe you’re like a lot of employers who are thinking at a higher level about this sort of thing. Employees want to work for companies where they feel safe and secure - of course! When a company invests in the implementation of these sorts of policies, it sends a clear message to employees that they are important as people, not just a means to another dollar. Bringing in legal experts to observe the nuance of a company and their workforce, craft company-specific training to the idiosyncrasies of a particular industry, and ensure all legal compliance, may be a better solution. There’s likely to be a greater front-loaded investment, but in the long run you’ll end up with a happier and safer work environment, have increased continuity in your workforce, and drastically reduce your liability risk in the process.