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New York’s Statewide Stand Against Workplace Sexual Harassment

November 29th, 2018

By: James Glowacki

New York’s Statewide Stand Against Workplace Sexual HarassmentJust last month, New York enacted a comprehensive statewide law aimed at reducing incidents of sexual harassment in the workplace. The new law expands protections available to employees and requires all New York employers to maintain a sexual harassment policy conforming to the state’s minimum requirements.

Under New York Labor Law Section 201-G, all employers are required to either use the state’s model sexual harassment policy, or establish and maintain an independent policy which meets the state’s guidelines. For example, every employer in New York must maintain a sexual harassment policy that: 1) clearly prohibits sexual harassment consistent with guidance issued by the Department of Labor; 2) includes a procedure for the timely and confidential investigation of complaints; 3) assures protection from workplace retaliation; and 4) informs employees of the right to all available administrative and judicial forums for adjudicating complaints of sexual harassment.

Significantly, the New York law also includes broad protections seldom seen in anti-harassment policies across the nation. New York employers must extend protection against sexual harassment to non-employees, including applicants, interns, and contractors. Further, sexual harassment must be defined broadly to include harassment based on sexual orientation, self-perceived or identified sex, gender expression, gender identity, and/or transgender status.  Employers must use a standard complaint form that gives employees an opportunity to identify the alleged incident of sexual harassment, as well as how the incident has affected his/her working environment. Employers had until October 9, 2018 to either adopt the state’s model policy, or to conform their individual policies to the state’s requirements. Additionally, New York employers are required to provide all employees (current and new hires) with annual, interactive sexual harassment training by October 9, 2019.

New York’s new law brings it in line with legislation enacted earlier this year in New York City.  In May 2018, New York City enacted the Stop Sexual Harassment in NYC Act (Act), which, as the name suggests, aims to reduce sexual harassment in city workplaces. In addition to many of the elements contained in the state’s policy, New York City employers must meet additional standards in order to comply with the city law. Employers must display a poster in employee common areas advising them of their rights and responsibilities under the law, and distribute a sexual harassment information sheet (created by the Commission on Human Rights) to all new hires. City employers subject to the Act are under a continuing obligation to conduct annual training for all employees and interns working in the city. New York City’s law was enacted in response to public testimony at the NYC Commission on Human Rights-Workplace Sexual Harassment Public Hearing, hosted by the Commission in December 2017.

New York’s law is in its infancy, and it will take time for workers and employers in the Empire State to realize the full force of its prescribed rights and requirements. The rest of the country should watch closely and hope that this novel legislation is effective at curbing the pervasive sexual harassment existing in employment nationwide.

If you have any questions about sexual harassment or discrimination in employment, contact an experienced Willig, Williams & Davidson attorney at 215-656-3600.

 

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