Q: Is Sexual Harassment Training Mandatory in New York?

A robust sexual harassment policy can help protect your employees and your business. And if your company has employees located in New York State, you’re required to have this policy and provide sexual harassment training. 

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As of October 2018, all employers in New York must adopt a policy that meets or exceeds the state’s “model sexual harassment policy.” But don’t worry, the state provides a number of resources designed to make developing this policy and training your employees easier for you.

(Quick note: If you’re in New York City, there are some additional requirements as well. We’ll cover those at the end!) 

What must be included in my sexual harassment policy?

Before diving into the New York sexual harassment law, it’s important to understand what New York’s Department of Labor and Division of Human Rights says constitutes “sexual harassment.” 

Their sexual harassment definition includes: 

  • A hostile work environment, including words, physical violence, signs, jokes, pranks, or intimidation which is either of a sexual nature or directed at a person due to their sex.
  • Unwanted verbal or physical advances, sexually explicit derogatory statements, or sexually discriminatory remarks that either cause offense, discomfort, or humiliation for the person they’re directed toward or impact their job performance.
  • Quid pro quo harassment, which happens when a person with authority—like a manager or supervisor—attempts to trade job benefits and advancement for sexual favors.

Note: sexual harassment can be directed at an employee of the same sex or opposite sex as well as at an employee who is transgender.

Generally, the actions must be “severe or pervasive” to be considered harassment. But even one offhand joke can be problematic. New York courts have ruled that one severe incident can count as sexual harassment. 

Now that you know what sexual harassment is, here’s what New York State requires your policy to do:

  • Prohibit sexual harassment, as defined above
  • Give examples of conduct that would be considered sexual harassment
  • Provide information about federal and state laws around sexual harassment—that’s New York State Human Rights Law and the Civil Rights Act of 1964—as well as any local laws that may apply
  • Explain remedies available for sexual harassment victims
  • Include a complaint form like this one
  • Explain your company’s timely, confidential procedure for investigating complaints 
  • Tell your employees their rights of redress and explain all administrative and legal methods to resolve any complaints 
  • State that sexual harassment is employee misconduct—and that there will be consequences for anyone who engages in sexual harassment as well as any supervisor or manager who knowingly allows it to happen  
  • Explain that it’s illegal to retaliate against harassed employees or anyone who assists in associated investigations

That’s a lot of information—but good news! New York State wrote a sample sexual harassment policy that covers all these bases. You’re free to implement this policy in your own business, saving you the time of writing your own. 

If you do want to create your own policy, these standards are the minimum requirement. You’re more than welcome to go above and beyond.

Whichever route you choose, you’ll need to provide all employees with your policy, either electronically or in writing.

Who must be included in the sexual harassment training?  

You must train all of your W-2 employees who physically work in New York State for all or part of the time. 

In addition, the state encourages you to offer training to all on-site individuals. While you aren’t required to do so, New York laws do state that you’re liable for any sexual harassment by contractors, subcontractors, vendors, and consultants. 

Another practice that New York State recommends but does not require: posting a copy of your sexual harassment policy visibly in the workplace so all employees, contractors, vendors, and other on-site workers understand your company’s policy and potential consequences of their actions.

How soon do I need to train new employees?

There are no specific guidelines on how quickly you must train new employees.

But once again, keep in mind that you’re responsible for employees’ behavior from their first day on the job. That means the sooner you train employees, the faster you can prevent potential incidents.

Gotcha. What training do I need to offer?

The New York sexual harassment training requirements say that employers must offer annual training for every employee. That includes exempt and non-exempt workers as well as part-time, seasonal, and temporary workers.

The training program must:

  • Be interactive—for example, by asking questions or allowing employees to give feedback
  • Define and give examples of sexual harassment, as defined above
  • Explain the federal and state laws around sexual harassment
  • Include information about available remedies for victims
  • Explain how and where employees can adjudicate complaints
  • Address additional responsibilities for supervisors, like quid pro quo harassment

New York State provides free training materials, including a script, video, PowerPoint, and FAQs, that cover all of these requirements.

You can adapt these materials to suit your unique company—like providing the contact information for the person who processes complaints or translating them into the primary language each employee speaks. (New York law asks you to provide the training in their primary language whenever possible.) You can also add a role play or group discussion to your company’s training.

If you have any additional above-and-beyond requirements in your sexual harassment policy, those should be included, too.

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What if I want to make my own training?

While New York State’s free training materials are ready-to-use, creating your own training may allow you to explain your company’s sexual harassment policy better and tailor the training to your employees.

Here are some options: 

  • E-learning modules: These are self-guided trainings that include a quiz, just like the online training provided by New York State. With this type of training, you don’t have to worry about the logistics of in-person trainings—but e-learning modules can be less engaging. They can also be less suitable for employees without computers. Expect to spend between $10 and $45 per employee. 
  • Live on-site trainings: These trainings are in-person and can be designed to suit your company’s culture. They’re more expensive though (approximately $3,000 for a 30-person session) and can be difficult to arrange logistically.
  • Live webinars: These offer both the benefits and negatives of the previous two options. Live webinars tend to be more expensive than e-learning options (expect to spend about $45 per employee) and less engaging than live trainings. They can be difficult to plan to fit all your employees’ schedules.

Okay, my business is located in New York City. What else do I need to know?

On top of state law, New York City has additional sexual harassment training requirements for employers. The Stop Sexual Harassment in NYC Act went into effect on April 1, 2019. 

If you’re based in the city and have at least 15 workers—including short-term and part-time employees and contractors—here’s what you need to do, in addition to requirements from the state:

  • Provide annual training for all employees who work more than 80 hours per year and at least 90 days per year. This includes independent contractors unless they already received training elsewhere.
  • Keep a record of all employee trainings—including a signed employee acknowledgment—for at least three years.
  • Post the required notice in both English and Spanish in a conspicuous location that is accessible to all employees, like a breakroom.
  • Give all new employees the sexual harassment fact sheet immediately upon hire and by the end of their first week at work at the latest.

While New York City’s requirements may be in addition to the state ones, there’s good news. The city provides an online training that meets all of the Stop Sexual Harassment in NYC Act’s requirements—and the state requirements, too. 

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