Understanding New York’s Sexual Harassment Laws

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Understanding New York’s Sexual Harassment Laws

If you’re an employer in New York, you may have heard about some recent updates to sexual harassment prevention laws.  Both New York City and New York State have cracked down on sexual harassment in the workplace by expanding the scope of protection under their new laws.  Both sets of laws require employers to put certain procedures in place to ramp up their prevention efforts.  

New York State’s Updated Law

Last April, New York State’s Human Rights Law was amended to include new requirements for employers’ sexual harassment prevention policies and procedures.  The updated rules include two important mandates for employers to follow:

  1. All employers in New York State must conduct mandatory sexual harassment prevention training annually, and within thirty (30) days for newly hired employees.
  2. Employers are required to adopt a sexual harassment prevention policy, which adheres to certain minimum standards (see the Sexual Harassment Prevention Training and Policy section below). 

Additionally, New York State’s updated laws expand the scope of protection against sexual harassment in the workplace.  Here are some of the added protections provided by the new law:

  • Now, not only may an employer be held liable for sexual harassment against employees, they may also be held responsible for such acts against non-employees, including: independent contractors, vendors, consultants or anyone else who is providing services to the employer. 
  • Mandatory arbitration clauses, where an employee would be limited to arbitration as their primary channel of legal recourse for claims of sexual harassment, are prohibited by the new law. 
  • A settlement agreement or other agreement in relation to a claim of sexual harassment cannot include a term that prohibits the disclosure of facts related to the claim, unless such term is the claimant’s preference. 

New York City’s Updated Law

On May 9, 2018, the “Stop Sexual Harassment in NYC Act” was enacted.  This legislation has many similarities with New York State’s new law, such as requiring annual training and the adoption of a robust sexual harassment policy.  

However, the New York City law has a few additional rules: 

  • This local code adds to the training obligation, requiring employers with fifteen (15) or more employees to get a signed acknowledgment of from each employee.  Such records must be maintained for at least three (3) years. 
  • New York City now also requires all employers to conspicuously display notices regarding sexual harassment prevention in the workplace (in both English and Spanish), and distribute a factsheet to all employees.
  • NYC’s new law increases the statute of limitations on sexual harassment claims from one (1) to three (3) years after the conduct occurs.

Sexual Harassment Prevention Training and Policy

As mentioned, the New York State and New York City laws are largely similar with regards to the new training and policy requirements.  Here are some of the key minimum standards required by the new laws:

A. The sexual harassment prevention training must…

i. be interactive, by including a “question and answer” component or having a live trainer available to answer questions;

ii. include an explanation of what constitutes sexual harassment, consistent with the guidance issued by the Department of Labor;

iii. include examples of conduct that constitutes sexual harassment;

iv. identify the applicable federal, state and local statutory provisions concerning remedies for victims; and

v. include information on employee’s rights of redress and information addressing conduct by supervisors and additional responsibilities of supervisors.

B. The sexual harassment prevention policy must…

i. prohibit sexual harassment, consistent with the guidance issued by the Department of Labor;

ii. include examples of prohibited conduct;

iii. include information about federal, state and local laws concerning sexual harassment, and all remedies and forums of redress available to victims;

iv. include a complaint form;

v. outline a timely and confidential procedure for investigation of complaints;

vi. state and explain that sanctions will be enforced against employees engaging in sexually harassing conduct, and against supervisors who knowingly allow such behavior to continue; and

vii. state that retaliation against those who allege sexual harassment is unlawful.

If you are an employer in New York, you should revisit your employee handbook or adopt a separate sexual harassment policy.  You may wish to have an attorney review your current sexual harassment prevention policy and procedures to ensure that you’re compliant with these recent changes to the law.  

If you are an employee in New York, you may want to speak to an experienced employment attorney to understand your rights.

Notice

This Blog is made available by Romano Law PLLC for general informational and educational purposes only, not to provide specific legal advice. By using this Blog you understand that there is no attorney client relationship between you and Romano Law PLLC or any individual contributor. You should consult a licensed professional attorney for individual advice regarding your own situation.

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