New York State Releases Guidelines for New Sexual Harassment Laws

A budget bill passed by the New York State Legislature in 2018, S. 7507/A. 9507, added several protections against sexual harassment for workers throughout the state. Part KK, Subpart E of the bill required the state to produce a “model sexual harassment prevention guidance document and sexual harassment prevention policy” and “a model sexual harassment prevention training program.” The state issued these documents in November 2018. The bill requires employers to adopt the state’s model policy and use its model training program, or to develop their own policies and programs that “equal or exceed the minimum standards” established by the state. New York City passed a law in 2018, Local Law 96, that also requires employers to provide sexual harassment training.

The New York State Human Rights Law (NYSHRL) prohibits discrimination in employment on the basis of sex, sexual orientation, and other factors. N.Y. Exec. L. § 296(1)(a). The New York City Human Rights Law (NYCHRL) contains similar prohibitions, as well as express prohibitions against discrimination on the basis of gender identity and gender expression. At the federal level, Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 prohibits discrimination on the basis of sex, but does not specifically mention sexual orientation or gender identity or expression. Court decisions have held that sexual harassment constitutes sex discrimination under all of these statutes.

The state released a document entitled “Sexual Harassment Policy for All Employers in New York State” in November 2018. This satisfies the state’s obligation under Part KK, Subpart E of the budget bill. The model policy states that sexual harassment may violate the NYSHRL when it is based on an individual’s actual or perceived sex, sexual orientation, gender identity or expression. It provides procedures for reporting sexual harassment. It identifies supervisors’ responsibilities when a report is made, and outlines how investigations should proceed.

The model policy defines sexual harassment as “unwelcome conduct which is either of a sexual nature, or which is directed at an individual because of that individual’s sex” in three situations. Two of these situations are commonly known as quid pro quo sexual harassment: the conduct is made “a term or condition of employment,” or the employee’s acceptance or rejection of the conduct “is used as the basis for employment decisions.” The third situation is commonly known as hostile work environment.

The state also released documents entitled “Minimum Standards for Sexual Harassment Prevention Training” and “Model Sexual Harassment Prevention Training.” The minimum standards document identifies six elements that an employer’s training program must have:

  1. Interactive, which means that the training must “require some level of feedback by those being trained”;
  2. An explanation of sexual harassment that is consistent with the state’s guidance;
  3. Examples of unlawful conduct;
  4. Information on state and federal law, as well as remedies for victims;
  5. Information on employees’ “rights of redress” and “forums for adjudicating complaints”; and
  6. Responsibilities and expectations of supervisors.

The knowledgeable and skilled employment lawyers at Phillips & Associates advocate for the rights of New York City employees, former employees, and job seekers in claims for sexual harassment and other unlawful workplace practices. To schedule a free and confidential consultation to see how we can help you, please contact us today online or at (866) 229-9441.

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