Sexual harassment in the workplace is by no means a new issue, but in the wake of the #MeToo movement, New York lawmakers have taken action to address it. While well-prepared employers have had sexual harassment policies and training in place for some time, under new legislation, passed as part of the 2019 New York State Budget and signed by Governor Cuomo in April, employers now have no choice and must have policies and training. With portions of the new laws already in effect, and the remaining law going into effect in the very near future, it’s critical that employers approach compliance in a proactive way.
Below is a guide to important policy changes and their effective dates. This list is not exhaustive, and we encourage you to contact us to review your particular situation. Additionally, employers with a New York City presence must comply with several additional requirements and deadlines not addressed in this article; please contact us to review these requirements in detail.
- The New York State Human Rights Law now protects all individuals against sexual harassment in the workplace, regardless of their employee status or role. For example, employers may be responsible for sexual harassment endured by their independent contractors and consultants.
July 11, 2018
- As of this date, agreements requiring sexual harassment claims to be submitted to mandatory arbitration are void under New York law.
- Courts are not permitted to approve confidential settlement agreements for sexual harassment claims unless the complainant: (a) is the one who requests confidentiality, (b) was given 21 days to consider the confidentiality provision, and (c) was given seven days to revoke his or her acceptance of the confidentiality provision.
October 9, 2018
- By this date, all employers must prepare and distribute a written sexual harassment policy (either the model sexual harassment prevention policy prepared by the New York State Department of Labor and the New York State Division of Human Rights, or their own policy compliant with all standards of the model policy). The adopted policy must include a statement prohibiting sexual harassment or retaliation for complaints, examples of prohibited conduct, information about the federal and state laws regarding sexual harassment, a standard complaint form, a procedure for timely investigating complaints, a statement of rights, and notice that sexual harassment is considered to be employee misconduct, among other requirements.
- Sexual harassment training for all employees must occur annually. Training must be “interactive” and as with the written policy, employers have a choice of presenting the state-approved version or their own program compliant with all the requirements, which include a definition of sexual harassment, examples of prohibited conduct, and information about the federal and state laws addressing sexual harassment as well as employees’ right of redress and methods/forums to handle complaints.
We encourage our clients to be proactive in addressing these changes by immediately evaluating their existing sexual harassment policies and training (if any) and contacting us for guidance in timely complying with these important new requirements. We are here to help!