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NYS Sexual Harassment Training: Compliance Essentials & Prevention Strategies

Nothing can ruin morale and productivity in the workplace like sexual harassment. Sadly, it is not uncommon in New York City and across the state, and it is illegal. Both employers and employees in the Empire State are required by law to sit for qualified sexual harassment prevention training.

This training directly targets common problematic sexual harassment issues so they do not spoil a productive worksite or cause distress to workers. Find out more and learn preventive measures to avoid sexual harassment incidents in your workplace.

What Is NYS Sexual Harassment Training?

What Is NYS Sexual Harassment Training?

Sexual harassment training is a mandatory prevention program targeting unlawful sexual harassment. All supervisors, managers, and employees are required to complete the training, which is based on protections found in federal and state laws, such as the Stop Sexual Harassment Act.

The training makes participants aware of their rights and duties in the workplace and informs them of the proper steps to take when sexual harassment arises. It also leads to a workplace where respect and equality are important values.

Legal Requirements for Sexual Harassment Training in NYS

Employers and employees are legally obligated to respect the rights of others in the workplace. Sexually harassing behavior is never tolerated but may sometimes be seen as okay, even though it never is. There are some precise legal obligations those in the workplace have toward one another when it comes to sexual harassment.

New York State Human Rights Law (NYSHRL)

The New York State Human Rights Law (NYSHRL) is a comprehensive piece of legislation that provides protection against sexual harassment for all workers in the state. As of 2018, employers in the state are required to adopt and implement adequate and proper sexual harassment policies and training that meet or exceed the minimum standards found within the legislation.

An important update that all should be aware of is a 2020 extension of the statute of limitations from one year to three years.

Applicability to Employers

The New York State Human Rights Law applies to all employers within New York State. As of February 8, 2020, there is no minimum number of employees an employer must have to be under the jurisdiction of the NYSHRL.

Previously, employers with fewer than four employees were exempt from the NYSHRL. Now, all employers are subject to its provisions and penalties for breaking them. As such, employers should diligently implement policies and training based on the NYSHRL or be subject to actual and statutory damages.

Mandatory Training Components

Mandatory Training Components

According to New York State’s regulations on sexual harassment prevention training, there are several specific requirements that all training must satisfy.

Specifically, instruction must:

  • Be interactive.
  • Include definitions and explanations of sexual harassment — this explanation must be consistent with the guidance from the Department of Labor and the Division of Human Rights.
  • Detail examples of conduct that would be considered sexual harassment.
  • Cover federal and state regulations.
  • Guide remedies available to victims and ensure they know that retaliation is prohibited.
  • Address the rights of employees to pursue redress.
  • List all available methods and forums for making complaints.
  • Explain the responsibilities and conduct of supervisors when addressing and resolving complaints.
  • Be provided on an annual basis and as needed.

Each component of this training is meant to accomplish various goals. Here are a few ways that these training components help employers create a safer workplace:

Training Component Purpose and Significance
Sexual Harassment Definitions To ensure employees understand what constitutes sexual harassment, including behaviors, words, and communications.
State and Federal Laws To ensure employees are aware of the federal and state laws that protect them from sexual harassment at work.
Employer Policies and Procedures To inform employees of the company’s policies regarding reporting sexual harassment.
Reporting Complaints Specific details on how to report sexual harassment allegations.
Protection Against Retaliation Ensure employees understand they are protected from retaliatory behavior.
Intervening Instruct employees on how to intervene on behalf of another employee facing sexual harassment.
Sexual Harassment Prevention Instruct on strategies and tactics helpful in avoiding or preventing sexual harassment.
Training Acknowledgment For employees to acknowledge they have completed training.
Refresher Training To keep employees up-to-date on sexual harassment policies and laws.

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Deadlines and Compliance

Compliance with federal and state sexual harassment laws is mandatory, and there is no grace period. In other words, compliance must be immediate when you have employees. If not, employers face running afoul of Labor Law 201-G, which deals with the prevention of sexual harassment and prescribes fines for violations.

Additionally, employers also face liability from a sexual harassment lawsuit, where damages can eclipse any amount of money or time saved by not implementing sexual harassment training. The typical way an employer is exposed for failure to comply with the laws is when a disgruntled employee leaves the workforce and files a complaint.  This triggers an investigation from the relevant investigating agencies, such as the New York State Department of Labor (DOL), Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC), and New York State Workers’ Compensation Board, to name a few.  Employers face stiff penalties for non-compliance, and once exposed, typically face harsher penalties for other complaints. When an employer fails to meet this mandatory requirement, investigators are inclined to suspect they fail to meet other compliance measures and lengthy and costly investigations are often triggered.

Key Elements of Effective Sexual Harassment Training

Key Elements of Effective Sexual Harassment Training

The effectiveness of sexual harassment prevention training in curtailing incidents of sexual harassment is undeniable. That said, programs must contain certain elements and features to be effective. This section discusses those essential elements and features.

1. Content and Curriculum

To be effective, sexual harassment prevention training programs must cover all aspects of sexual harassment in the workplace, including definitions of sexual harassment, examples of sexual harassment, the legal protections employees enjoy, and the consequences and remedies of sexual harassment.

Bystander intervention should also be addressed as a powerful means of stopping or preventing sexual harassment. It's equally important to ensure the training content is tailored to each organization's specific characteristics and needs.

Finally, utilizing real-life case studies and incidents can be effective in driving the points home for employees and supervisory and managerial employees when treating topics such as gender equality, diversity, respect, and inclusion.

2. Delivery Methods

Various delivery methods are available for sexual harassment training. When choosing a method, it is important to consider the characteristics and needs of your organization. You ultimately want to choose the formats and methods most appropriate for your workplace.

Methods available to choose from include role-playing, classroom lectures, video instruction, interactive lessons, and more. Topics can be covered in a variety of formats or contexts as well, such as in a workshop, seminar, or presentation. Whichever method you choose, it is important to use experienced instructors who are adept at identifying problem areas specific to individual organizations.

3. Reporting and Complaint Procedures

Sexual harassment prevention training must include detailed and comprehensive instruction on the reporting and complaint procedures for sexual harassment incidents.

Employees need to know that there is a clear avenue to address sexual harassment claims to feel protected, which begins with reporting the conduct to a supervisor. There should also be instructions on understanding what acts constitute unlawful sexual harassment.

Employees and supervisors should also be trained in retaliation prevention and instructed on the illegality of retaliatory behavior against victims of harassment. For managers and supervisors, detailed instruction on handling harassment complaints is required, including taking disciplinary action against offenders.

4. Record-Keeping

Businesses must demonstrate compliance with sexual harassment laws and rules through detailed record-keeping relating to sexual harassment training and education. Doing so shows that a business has fulfilled its duty under various laws to protect its employees from sexual harassment in the workplace. Without these records, an employer is exposed to liability.

In every case, New York City employers should keep attendance records, records of complaints, and records detailing the response to these complaints. These records should be organized, easily accessible, and regularly reviewed for compliance. Various information and employee management systems are available to help with this task.

Comprehensive Compliance Solutions: Legal Aid for NYS Sexual Harassment Training

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Preventing Sexual Harassment in the Workplace

Preventing sexual harassment in the workplace requires far less effort and fewer resources than dealing with a sexual harassment lawsuit. It also helps businesses avoid the destruction that sexual harassment can cause to their employees, productivity, and bottom lines. This section will provide you with practical approaches to effectively preventing sexual harassment.

1. Creating a Safe and Inclusive Work Environment

Employees need to feel safe when they work, or morale, productivity, and employee retention will drop. Supervisors must take leadership roles and equally enforce policies designed to protect employees. Companies with supervisors taking an active interest in the well-being of their employees thrive because the employees feel looked after and included.

For example, instituting one-on-one or group meetings to discuss employment issues shows employees their concerns matter. In return, they take more ownership of their work and productivity increases.

2. Addressing and Responding to Complaints

Employees should know the precise steps to take when an issue arises and that the company will take effective, timely action against the offender. Typically, the first step is to report the conduct to the company's human resources department. Victims should meticulously follow the company's reporting instructions to avoid issues down the line.

You can also file sexual harassment complaints with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC), which will investigate the matter and seek a resolution, perhaps through settlement. If this course of action does not produce satisfactory results, the employee can file a sexual harassment lawsuit.

3. Training Supervisors and Managers

Managers and supervisors are optimally placed to enforce a company's sexual harassment prevention policy. They're on-site and always in a position to observe the work dynamics throughout the day. Additionally, they are in a position to greatly influence the general overall tone and mood of the workplace through their behavior.

Training these leaders to create environments that foster morale and well-being should be among a company's top priorities. They should also be trained on the appropriate response to situations and complaints involving sexual harassment. Various companies specialize in manager and supervisor training in these areas.

4. Promoting a Culture of Respect

Businesses must demonstrate respect and value for their employees' safety and well-being. They must foster a culture of respect, which should feature active listening, acknowledgment, and celebration of successes, and support for diversity.

Those companies that have done so have experienced healthy growth through high employee morale and productivity. As an employee or manager, you have the opportunity to make concrete changes within your organization by implementing or supporting effective sexual harassment prevention policies and policies meant to foster diversity.

Consequences of Non-Compliance

Consequences of Non-Compliance

Sexual harassment laws have teeth enough to do significant damage to companies that do not comply. Failure to comply with training requirements can lead to significant fines as well as liability for acts of sexual harassment.

Furthermore, a company's reputation is often directly tied to its culture. Businesses facing sexual harassment allegations typically take a swift hit to their brand and bottom line, and employees lose trust. The optimal way to prevent this from occurring is to be proactive.

Businesses must devote whatever resources necessary to ensure they have adequate, effective sexual harassment prevention training programs and policies in place with competent instructors to teach them.

Seeking Legal Guidance for NYS Sexual Harassment Training? 

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An Ounce of Training Equals a Pound of Cure

Properly designed and implemented sexual harassment prevention training programs and policies save your business time and money. They also help make your place of business an inclusive and safe worksite for your employees who know where to turn when a problem does arise.

To achieve this, well-designed programs must ultimately give employees an avenue to pursue recourse against sexual harassment complaints. Further, employers must push beyond simple compliance and foster goodwill and well-being at work.

At Lawyer For Business, we can help you create training materials specifically tailored to your needs and review and discuss your current policies.

Buffalo Business Lawyer Serving New York State
Andrea A. Willis, Esq. is an award-winning attorney that delivers top-notch service to her clients. She has a diverse background representing business clients from many sectors and sizes.

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