It’s A New Era In State Offices

Elizabeth Cipolla

Although the #MeToo movement began just eight months ago in October 2017, it has gained impressive momentum and support as a sweeping anti sexual-harassment movement throughout Hollywood, government, media and big business. State Gov. Andrew Cuomo, with support of Western New York Sen. Catharine Young, has recently signed into law new legislation that Cuomo has suggested provides the strongest and most comprehensive anti sexual-harassment protection in the nation.

On April 12, Gov. Cuomo signed the state budget bill, which makes some big changes in the obligations of state employers related to sexual harassment. The new law has some immediate and upcoming implications for all state employers regardless of size or industry. These significant measures are directed at both private and government employers. They are in direct response to the nationwide #MeToo movement and increased dialogue around workplace sexual harassment.

These changes in the law are significant, and it is crucial for all business owners and human resource managers to be aware of their new legal obligations. Not sure where to start? Here is a breakdown of the immediate and upcoming changes to New York State legislation related to employer mandates.

ı ı ı

EFFECTIVE IMMEDIATELY

Employers may now be held liable for sexual harassment of non-employees if the employer, its agents or supervisors knew or should have known that the non-employee was subjected to harassment and the employer failed to take immediate and appropriate corrective action. This extended protection under the New York State Human Rights Law now includes contractors, subcontractors, vendors, consultants and other people providing services pursuant to a contractual agreement.

ı ı ı

EFFECTIVE IN THE NEAR FUTURE

¯ As of July 11, 2018, all New York State employers will be prohibited from using nondisclosure clauses when attempting to settle harassment claims. The only allowable exception is if the complainant prefers for the settlement to remain confidential.

¯ As of Oct. 9, 2018, all New York State employers must distribute a written workplace anti-harassment policy to every employee, and must also provide an interactive anti-harassment training for all employees. The anti-harassment policy and training must be provided on an annual basis, and needs to include specific elements as prescribed by the New York State Department of Labor and the New York State Division of Human Rights. Amongst other things, in addition to covering the federal and state provisions concerning sexual harassment and remedies available to victims, the training must also include employees’ rights for filing complaints, as well as the specific responsibilities/liabilities of supervisory personnel.

¯ As of Jan. 1, 2019, all New York State employers who wish to bid on certain state contracts will first need to affirm and provide evidence that they’ve implemented a written policy addressing workplace sexual harassment, and have provided an interactive annual anti-harassment prevention training to every employee as required and mentioned above.

If you are a New York State employer or human resource manager, it is important for you to consider a plan to begin implementing these major changes now. If you have an existing anti-harassment policy or training program, take the extra steps needed to ensure it measures up to include every new provision being mandated through this law.

Even if you’ve distributed your existing policy to employees in the past, do it again once the necessary provisions have been made, and have all employees sign an acknowledgment form. Ideally, you can distribute your new and improved policy as part of your interactive mandatory anti-harassment training, which can also be referenced on the acknowledgment form your employees will sign.

If you’re feeling overwhelmed about how to keep up with these legislative changes, don’t. Many large employers have a certified and formally educated human resource professional on staff who should be well versed to provide guidance and support. Smaller employers can access external consultative resources to review current anti-harassment policies and training practices to ensure legal compliance as mandated by New York State. If you’d like more information, contact Elizabeth Cipolla, SPHR, SHRM-SCP at 716-490-2889, or via email at changeagentsee@gmail.com

Elizabeth P. Cipolla SPHR, SHRM-SCP is a leadership communications professional specializing in the areas of leadership training, creative recruitment strategies, employment branding, professional development and executive coaching for nearly 20 years. Her leadership experience comes from various industries including marketing, mass media, apparel, education, manufacturing, aerospace, nonprofit agencies and insurance. To contact Elizabeth, email her at changeagentsee@gmail.com.

COMMENTS