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Preparing for New York’s Sexual Harassment Laws

Preparing for New York’s Sexual Harassment Laws
Written by Tina Nguyen

While many companies have some form of a sexual harassment prevention policy, New York State is mandating that all companies with employees based in the state complete annual sexual harassment prevention training for all their staff at least once annually. As the law goes into effect on 10/9, companies will need to train their employees by October 9, 2019, which is a significant update from the previously reported January 1, 2019 deadline.

Recently, Grovo’s Director of Content Strategy, John Marshall, led a webinar conversation with Grovo’s Chief Learning Officer, Summer Salomonsen, and Dan Obuhanych of Silicon Valley Workplace Law about the upcoming sexual harassment prevention laws in New York State.

“The training we’ve been doing thus far has not solved the problem that is persistent and pernicious in a lot of ways. And we need to relook at how we’ve been approaching the development of that training and what it should include, so that we can really target the root causes of this problem,” said Summer Salomonsen.

With a few weeks to go before New York State’s 10/9 effective date, our panelists unpacked some of the key components of the laws and how employers can prepare.

Training Requirements Are Mandatory Starting 10/9

Just because sexual harassment prevention training will become a requirement, that doesn’t mean companies should settle for stale content that makes employees’ eyes glaze over. Training isn’t a punishment, but an opportunity to fundamentally redefine and change our workplace culture for the better.

As a reminder, the initial employee training must be completed for all employees in New York State by January 1, 2019.

This law states that:

  • All employees—regardless of whether they are full-time, part-time, salaried, non-salaried, temporary workers, transient workers—based in New York State must receive sexual harassment prevention training.
  • Employees must be trained every year and employers must keep record of the training. We suggest designating someone to take charge of the training program and record-keeping.

With New York State’s law going into effect on 10/9, this runs up against the end of the calendar year—often a busy time for many employees. So, employers need to take holidays, office closures, etc. into consideration when organizing company-wide training.

One Training Can Satisfy Both New York State and NYC Laws

While New York State and NYC have their own laws going into effect around sexual harassment training, one training can satisfy the minimum requirements for both.

“If we move away from the model of we’re just going to show you the most obvious and obscene scenarios of sexual harassment, what happens is people watch that and say, ‘I’m not a harasser’ and they tune out. The irony is that so much of harassment comes in those elements of small exclusions that we don’t see because we aren’t trained to look at our blind spots,” said Summer Salomonsen.

Grovo has taken a modern approach to sexual harassment prevention training and breaks through the mold of what people have been conditioned to think about this type of training. Our modern approach to sexual harassment prevention training prioritizes four elements:

  • Active bystander: Equipping employees with concrete strategies for speaking up and intervening when they see something inappropriate
  • Building inclusive teams: Identifying exclusionary practices and eliminating them from the workplace
  • Unconscious bias: Help employees slow down their thinking and address blindspots (examples: gender quarantines like thinking you can’t invite women to social situations because it will be too ‘tempting’ or ‘risky’)
  • Empowering employees: This is an opportunity to empower our employees to make better decisions in the moment and exercise judgement to minimize and mitigate exclusionary behavior

Yes, you can deploy a simple training that meets the bare minimum for New York State and NYC requirements, or you can make the business case for an inclusive environment that leads to more productivity because it targets problematic behavior and root causes.

“At Grovo, we wanted to challenge people to rethink their approach and change their mindset around sexual harassment. We cannot ignore it anymore. We can’t act like this isn’t real and this isn’t happening. And if we approach it the same way we have for the past 20 years, by giving people lists of things they shouldn’t be doing or showing them obscene scenarios and alienating our employees—we’re going to fail again. New York, your time is now,” said Summer Salomonsen.

Develop Open Dialogue Through a Feedback Process

“If it’s not effective training, and you’re just looking to check the box and people aren’t getting anything out of it, you might as well not do it. You should do a training that’s going to help productivity and create diversity & inclusion in the workplace, and part of that is finding out what employees find appealing and not appealing in a training program,” said Dan Obuhanych.

A crucial part of learning is asking questions. Learning professionals sometimes forget the impact potential of simply asking questions about their training programs. Learning isn’t a one-and-done trick. It’s continuous. If you want to move beyond the check the box mentality on sexual harassment prevention training, you need to provide opportunities for employees to give feedback and ask questions about the training.

“This type of dialogue is incredibly helpful in minimizing exclusions because our people can’t feel comfortable coming to you asking questions for fear of reprimand or retribution,” said Summer Salomonsen.

Questions from the Webinar

1. What are the NYC requirements for companies with less than 15 employees?
If your company has fewer than 15 employees (including interns), you will not be subject to the NYC training requirements. However, you will need to meet the training requirements set by New York State.

2. Can you clarify who needs to be trained under NYC law? We have 800 employees that work only 32 hours over 11 days. Do they legally need to be trained in NYC/New York State?
Yes, under NYC law, employees who work more than 80 hours in a calendar year (full-time or part-time) must be trained within 90 days of hire. Under New York State law, all employees must be trained, regardless of the number of hours worked.

3. Should a company do two different trainings–one for managers and one for employees?
According to New York State law, there is not a specific requirement to offer managers a separate training. That said, for maximum effectiveness, Grovo has designed separate trainings; one for employees and one for managers.

4. Is there any detail regarding what “interactive” means?
According to New York State and City law, a webinar or online training is interactive if it asks questions of employees or solicits feedback (which Grovo does via its assessments in each lesson).

5. What about independent contract workers who work in your office? I assume yes even though they are technically not employees and not on our payroll?
For independent contractors, it depends on how they are classified. If there’s any risk of misclassification, and the contractor may technically be an employee, like someone you hire to write code for your organization—they probably need to complete the training.

However, if someone is a true independent contractor, like someone your organization hires to clean the office after hours, they’re not subject to the training requirement.

Want more information?

We’ve put together a guide for companies with employees based in New York State and New York City with a legislation timeline, an overview of annual training requirements, and additional information on who is required to complete the training. Get the datasheet guide.

Further, you can check out the full recording of our on-demand webinar for more expert insights, a policy requirement breakdown, and answers to more questions. Watch the on-demand webinar Training in the era of #metoo: Preparing for New York’s Sexual Harassment Laws.