By Oct. 9, employers throughout New York State must provide anti-sexual harassment training to all of their employees. But as the deadline looms, many companies have not started the training yet.
Many small businesses don’t have counsel, and they might not be cognizant of all of their responsibilities as an employer. But under New York law, all employers who operate in the state were required to have a sexual harassment prevention policy in place by last October. They were given a year after that to complete the training (though all workers in New York City had to be trained by April 1, 2019). The training must be repeated on an annual basis, and new employees must be trained shortly after they are hired.
Many attorneys with a concentration in employment law have been conducting training to help their clients comply with the new requirement.
Campolo, Middleton & McCormick, a law firm based in Ronkonkoma, will offer training sessions for employees of multiple companies in its training room next month.
“A lot of businesses have not complied yet, and there are many companies with just a few employees who don’t want to spend the extra funds to have a private training session,” said Christine Malafi, senior partner and chair of the firm’s corporate department. “This is a more economical way for them to do it.”
New York State also makes online resources available for employers to provide training. But while training can be completed online, in-person training has certain advantages.
In these live sessions, managers and employees are able to hone in on the questions that are relevant to them and address concerns that are uppermost in their minds.
Over the last several months, Malafi has been engaged by several chambers of commerce to provide anti-sexual harassment training to groups made up of their member businesses.
At these sessions, several participants recounted incidents that had happened to them in the workplace and asked if they should report them, Malafi said.
“The sessions made people more aware of what constitutes proper behavior and improper behavior in the workplace,” Malafi said. “In most of the complaints, in my opinion, the employee who is doing the offensive conduct is not aware that it is offensive to the other person, because the two individuals don’t take it the same way.”
The sessions provide a lot of back and forth on issues such as physical contact in the workplace.
“Someone might say, ‘What’s the big deal if I put a hand on someone’s shoulder?’” Malafi said. “I say you shouldn’t do it. You have to be cognizant about how the other person feels, and rather than make a mistake about how they would feel about it, it’s better to just not do it.”
With the diverse pool of people in the workforce – who come from a wide range of backgrounds and generations – different actions can be interpreted in many different ways.
“You might have people ranging in age from 19 to 80 in a workplace, and the age difference can make a gigantic difference in how people act,” Malafi said. “They might not realize how what they’re doing is offending people. With these sessions, there is a dialog back and forth. People feel comfortable because I’m not their supervisor or employer, so they feel more comfortable having an open discussion.”
Campolo, Middleton & McCormick offers two types of training sessions – one for managers and supervisors, and one for non-management employees.
The session for management has an extra component. “New York State does not require separate training for managers, but we feel it is extremely important that they receive extra training because the new law places responsibilities on managers and supervisors that did not exist before,” Malafi said.