by Deborah Jeanne Sergeant
Since April of 2018, lawmakers have aimed new legislation at combatting sexual harassment in the New York’s workplaces. More of its tenets go into effect in just a few months. Michael Paglialonga, deputy counsel with the New York State Department of Labor, addressed what this means for employers in a recent webinar hosted by the Department of Labor.
“Under the law, all employers must adopt a sexual harassment prevention policy and provide a copy of it to all employees by Oct. 9, 2018,” Paglialonga said. “They must provide sexual harassment training to all employees as soon as possible, but not later than Oct. 9, 2019.”
Employers must offer the training annually after that point. He stressed that every employer must, whether regardless of employees’ status of immigration or length of employment.
Some employers may feel they don’t know where to start, especially if they don’t employ a department focusing on human resources; however, model materials are available at www.ny.gov/programs/combating-sexual-harassment-workplace include minimum standards for policies and trainings; employer and employee toolkits; model sexual harassment prevention policy and poster; model sexual harassment complaint form; model training script book and PowerPoint presentations; and frequently asked questions.
“These materials are put out to help employers with compliance,” Paglialonga said. “There’s a lot of information on here geared towards different groups.”
Employers can download in Word or PDF format and personalize materials to their workplace.
“Or adopt one that meets or exceeds the minimum standards,” Paglialonga said.
The minimum standards must “prohibit sexual harassment consistent with issued guidance, provide examples of prohibited conduct, and include information concerning the federal and state statutory provisions concerning sexual harassment, remedies available to victims of sexual harassment and a statement that there may be applicable laws,” Paglialonga said. “Many counties and cities have adopted laws that go on top of state laws. New York State sets the absolute floor and some municipalities have additional laws.”
He added that the minimum standards also include a complaint form and a procedure for the timely and confidential investigation.
“That can be anything from an internal human resources office to an arrangement with a law firm or other agency,” Paglialonga said.
The policy also has to make it clear that sexual harassment is a type of employee misconduct and that those who engage in it or allow it to continue under their authority are subject to disciplinary measures.
The policy should also “state that retaliation against individuals who complain, testify or assist in any investigation or proceeding involving sexual harassment is unlawful,” Paglialonga added.
The training, required for all workers, includes an explanation of the policy, examples of unlawful sexual harassment, and information about federal and state statues as well as remedies available to victims. It should also include information on employees’ rights of redress and all available forums for adjudicating complaints. The training should explain addressing conduct by supervisors and additional responsibilities for supervisors.
Worker training may be conducted in person, through a webinar or individually.
“This is where we get a number of questions,” Paglialonga said. “You can use different means. It should be more than us sitting there passively talking with everyone. It should include a Q&A, more than someone watching a YouTube link at home or a video.”
Video presentations are available in nine languages.
The training should also reflect the policies specific to that employer and industry, along with sharing the company’s internal processes. Training must take place across each tier in the workforce and in the language spoken by the employees. But if training isn’t available in an employee’s language, English is acceptable.
“It’s not a good idea to hire someone new, take them on and they’ve never been trained on their first day working,” said Paglialonga. “‘They just started’ doesn’t work if they have an infraction.”