In an effort to crack down on workplace sexual harassment, New York State and New York City have both adopted a new set of sexual harassment laws. These laws, which went into effect last October, set new requirements for sexual harassment policies, complaints forms, training, non-disclosure agreements, and more. Adhering to the new laws requires resources, time, and understanding, and many business owners are, understandably, scrambling.
In particular, sexual harassment training is one of the biggest headaches for business owners, as it is the area of most significant legal change. Prior to the law, sexual harassment training existed but was nowhere near common. Some businesses had the training, but many industries, like restaurants, had nothing of the sort. Now, every employer must provide annual interactive training to every employee — and that means every employee, from fifteen-year-olds to undocumented immigrants to consultants.
Furthermore, the training is more than a checking-the-box exercise. It must be interactive, explain what sexual harassment is, provide examples, delineate reporting steps, and inform employees of their rights of redress. The training may not be a walk in the park, but fear not, it is still doable.
You have a few different options for fulfilling your training obligations. You can create your own training or employ a third-party training, both of which must meet or exceed state standards. If your training fails to comply with state requirements though, you fail to comply with the law. Likewise, if you use a third party, they may cost you upwards of $1000 and still fail to comply. That’s why we’ve included a fully New York and New York City compliant, interactive sexual harassment training solution in our HR ToolKit, which is available to all of our insured restaurants at no cost.
What happens if you don’t comply?
Currently, it’s unclear. The law was enacted in October of 2018, yet there are still no penalties for non-compliance. That’s not to say don’t worry about it though. Employers can be liable for sexual harassment, and correct training can be both a preventative measure and a viable defense in court. For instance, let’s say hostile work environment harassment has occurred (this means that one employee is harassing another to the point of extreme discomfort in the workplace). You are strictly liable for this type of harassment. But, if you can demonstrate that you tried to prevent this occurrence and the harasser was acting against your policies, you may be able to protect yourself in court.
The new laws may be daunting, and somewhat mysterious, but they are in place for a reason. Although you will not be met with a penalty, complying with the law ultimately helps to protect you, your employees, and your business. To get yourself covered and compliant, check out the HR ToolKit and contact us.