I am sure that you have seen from multiple sources that New York State has recently updated its sexual harassment laws. Among other things, effective October 9, 2018 all employers in New York State must
- Adopt and distribute a sexual harassment policy that complies with strict requirements, including providing a complaint form that can be used by employees; and
- Implement an interactive sexual harassment training program and ensure that all employees receive such training by October 9, 2019.
Complying with these requirements is easy. You can print the already compliant sexual harassment policy off State’s website (https://www.ny.gov/combating-sexual-harassment-workplace/employers) and distribute it your employees. On the same webpage, the State also provides model training materials that you can use to provide the required training to your employees.
However, many employers who simply comply with the minimum requirements of the new law will not see any significant changes in their workplace culture and will remain at risk for future sexual harassment claims. This is because in most cases sexual harassment training programs simply do not work. If you must provide sexual harassment training, you might as well make it work. Effective training can truly improve your culture and reduce your liability.
The key is to --- B-E S-A-F-E!
Buy-in From Management - Regardless of the type of training you do, members of management should be front and center, explaining why the training is important and showing their commitment to complying with the law.
Explain Reporting/Investigation Process in Detail - Your training should explain how complaints are investigated and resolved and assure employees that no one will be retaliated against for raising a good-faith concern.
Separate Supervisor Training - Under the law, supervisors’ responsibilities are different than those of rank-and-file employees. Thus, their training should be different. Supervisors need to understand that they have an obligation, in addition to refrain from harassing others, to report any incidents of harassment that they learn about, even if they are not directly involved.
Avoid Online/Off-the Shelf Programs - If possible, I strongly recommend in-person training that is tailored to your workforce. A primary purpose of non-harassment training is to foster respect and teamwork among your employees. This cannot be done alone, in front of a computer.
Facilitate Discussion - The more you can get your employees talking and interacting during a training, the better. Make it clear that the purpose of discussion is not to accuse others or confess past transgressions. Focus on how to create a respectful workplace and resolve workplace issues before they escalate.
Examples, Examples, Examples - Employees will not remember any of the legal mumbo jumbo from the training. They will, however, remember specific examples of what is and what is not appropriate. Be careful with roleplaying, it can be effective in some trainings, but be the judge whether your employees will treat such an exercise with appropriate professionalism.
Although New York’s new requirements can feel like a burden, this is a real opportunity to make a positive change in your work place. If you take my advice to B-E S-A-F-E, there is a real chance to implement a training program that will not just check the legal box, but also make a real impact on your employees.