New York State and New York City recently joined other states and local jurisdictions that have longstanding laws to stop sexual harassment in the workplace. The New York laws require employers to adopt policies and provide training to prevent sexual harassment.
The legislative and media spotlight on sexual harassment is a reminder that employers everywhere have a duty to stop harassment. Read on for a short legislative history, a summary of the laws recently adopted in New York, and a list of resources for establishing best practices at law offices and client workplaces.
History of Sexual Harassment Policies and Training
Over the past 25 years, several states have adopted legislation mandating sexual harassment policies and training in the workplace. Maine adopted the first mandatory training law in 1992 and it was followed by laws passed in Connecticut, California, Colorado, Maine, Massachusetts, New Mexico, Vermont, and now New York. Adopting policies and training is advisable for organizations in all states to prevent inappropriate behavior, avoid negative publicity, and defend against claims.
New York State: Below is a summary of the anti-sexual harassment law recently adopted by New York State:
- Policy and Training – Employers must provide employees with policy statements and annual training.
- Grievance Procedure – A complaint form must be included in policy statements.
- Arbitration – Employers may not require arbitration of sexual harassment claims. Exceptions are made for arbitration clauses in collective bargaining agreements and arbitration agreements entered into after a dispute arises.
- Confidentiality – Employers may not use non-disclosure clauses in settlement agreements, unless requested by the victim.
- Protected Persons – Employees (full-time, part-time, and temporary) and non-employees (consultants, contractors, and vendors) are protected by the law.
New York City Developments: Below is a summary of the anti-sexual harassment law recently adopted by New York City:
- Harassment – The definition of harassment is expanded to include gender-based harassment.
- Poster – Employers must display a city designed anti-sexual harassment poster.
- Training – Employers must provide annual training to all employees and train new employees within 90 days of hire. The training must include information about submitting complaints, helping as a bystander, and responsibilities of managers.
- Limitations Period – The limitations period for gender-based harassment claims is extended to three years.
Conclusion Evolving laws and media attention make stopping stop sexual harassment an imperative for lawyers and their clients, especially in states like New York that require employers to adopt anti-harassment policies and training. Contact clients to make them aware of the anti-harassment laws and explain how you can help by reviewing and updating contracts, policies, training, and claim procedures.
Resources See the New York Law Journal for articles about anti-harassment policies and training programs. Also see NYLJ’s article about stopping harassment in the legal profession. See the PBS News Hour for a report on the evolution of sexual harassment training. Also see the ABA’s new book about Best Practices for Combatting Harassment, Nolo’s Guide to Handling Workplace Harassment and Discrimination, Landmark’s casebook on Sexual Harassment, and the many articles, blogs, and websites about sexual harassment.