In accord with the ongoing “me too” movement, the state, and the city of New York have both enacted a series of laws to help combat workplace sexual harassment. To the lucky restaurateurs who operate out of NYC, this may seem like a headache. But fear not, most requirements overlap.
The state has two main requirements: interactive training and comprehensive sexual harassment policy. The city has the same requirements, but stipulates that training must be provided annually; higher-level employees must receive additional training; training must be provided within 90 days of employment; records of training must be kept for three years; employers must conspicuously display sexual harassment posters. This list may be lengthy, but the city laws simply put deadlines on the state laws.
You’ve Complied, Now What?
Compliance is a great thing, but it’s also a legally mandated thing. In order to create the safest workplace possible, you need to read between the lines and go beyond the concrete requirements. Taking preventative measures against sexual harassment is a win-win — it helps you avert lawsuits and keeps your employees safe.
You can start by setting up a clear, confidential reporting system. A thorough and known reporting mechanism helps employees to feel more comfortable, knowledgeable, and less fearful of retaliation. No employee wants to submit a report if they think they will be punished or shamed. Keep an open communication network between employees and whoever is in charge of employees.
Furthermore, you must make the responsibilities and expectations of employees crystal clear. In a healthy work environment, your employees must be active bystanders. If they see a coworker being harassed or degraded, they should know what to do. Encouraging intervention may not be wise, but supporting reporting certainly is. Employees need to understand that as co-workers, they have the power to make their workplace safer.
As a business, you also have the power to create a safer workplace. One crucial part of doing this is consistency. New York State requires that you have a sexual harassment policy, but it is up to you to put it into practice. Adopt a zero-tolerance policy for any and all forms of sexual harassment, and enforce it. Remind employees of your policies when necessary. Taking such matters seriously shows that you mean business.
With everything you do, be sure to keep a record. Keep a record of everything that shows you made an effort to avoid sexual harassment. Doing this shows that you did everything in your power to prevent the event from occurring. Often times, this can hold up as a defense in court.
As a member of the industry most riddled with sexual harassment claims, you need to be proactive. Following these suggestions is a great first step, but do not stop there. Nothing is foolproof — no training, no policy, nothing — besides insurance. Protect yourself, and get covered. Coverage for this can be hazy, and in some cases, nonexistent. Let us check out your policy and make sure you’re protected.