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What you need to know about sexual harassment prevention training

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“With the #MeToo movement, Gov. Andrew Cuomo and Mayor Bill de Blasio have come out swinging in a proactive attack to combat sexual harassment throughout New York,” reported the New York Law Journal in October 2018.

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The workplace should be a safe environment. No employee should ever feel threatened or sexually harassed. In the state of New York, this is not just common sense – it is also policy. Employers in New York state, regardless of size, are now required to implement a sexual harassment policy and prevention training program. The legislation was signed into law on April 12, 2018.

When do these new rules take effect? They already have. As of Oct. 9, 2018, all New York state employers are required to adopt written sexual harassment prevention policies and institute annual anti-harassment training for employees by October 2019.

From a prevention training perspective, employers have two options: to use the model training program developed by the Department of Labor and Division of Human Rights that is available online; or to develop and use their own custom version, which needs to meet the state’s minimum standards.

The Society for Human Resource Management explains: “Employers are not required to include the verbatim language outlined in the state’s model training materials. Rather, training programs must meet the minimum standards published by the state.”

If you are a business planning to develop and use your own training program, here is everything you need to know about those minimum requirements:

Your training must be interactive. Sending an all-office email or pinning a piece of paper to the break room bulletin board will not cut it. Employers need to actively engage their employees in the training. In the state’s model program, this entails asking true or false questions about hypothetical sexual harassment scenarios.

Your training must be accurate. The state requires that all trainings must “include an explanation of sexual harassment consistent with guidance issued by the Department of Labor in consultation with the Division of Human Rights.” The state defines sexual harassment as “a form of sex discrimination (that) is unlawful under federal, state, and (where applicable) local law.” The definition continues, “Sexual harassment includes harassment on the basis of sex, sexual orientation, self-identified or perceived sex, gender expression, gender identity and the status of being transgender.”

Your training must include examples of sexual harassment. Employers must provide concrete scenarios that entail clear, unlawful sexual harassment, to ensure employees understand. In the state’s model program, examples of sexual harassment include displaying explicit materials in the workplace and sexually motivated touching or grabbing.

Your training must address statutes and remedies. All training programs must “include information concerning the federal and state statutory provisions concerning sexual harassment and remedies available to victims of sexual harassment,” the state notes. Remedies include filing a complaint with the New York State Division of Human Rights within one year of the incident; filing a complaint with the United States Equal Employment Opportunity Commission within 300 days of the incident; or contacting the local police department.

Your training must address employees’ rights of redress. Further, the training must also address “all available forums for adjudicating complaints.” These processes include confidential investigations and disciplinary action against the perpetrator, which can include termination.

Your training must address conduct by supervisors. The state outlines a specific type of sexual harassment titled “quid pro quo.” This is when “a person in authority trades, or tries to trade, job benefits for sexual favors.” Examples include offering job opportunities in exchange for a sexual relationship and/or threatening demotion if a sexual relationship is refused. The state also defines something called The Supervisor’s Responsibility: “Supervisors and managers are held to a high standard of behavior. This is because they are placed in a position of authority by the employer and must not abuse that authority. They are expected to model appropriate workplace behavior.”

Joseph D. Moschitto, James D. Schutzer and Daniel L. Wright are the president, vice president and director of business development at JDM Benefits, respectively. To learn more about company offerings, visit JDMBenefits.com or email info@jdmbenefits.com.

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