A recent New York post headline blared, “NYC business owners ‘shocked’ by baffling new sex harassment laws.” By now, most employers aren’t actually shocked to know that there are new requirements for all New York State employers, but many are still struggling to know exactly how to ensure they meet the new requirements.
Effective October 9th, 2018 the state of New York made sexual harassment prevention policies and annual employee training mandatory for all businesses. The new law requires businesses to either use the model harassment prevention policy provided by the New York Department of Labor or develop their own which meets New York State’s minimum standards. Companies have until October 9, 2019 to implement their anti-harassment policy and provide training with very specific methodology and content in order to remain compliant. This means that if your business does not already have such a policy in place, and the training completed for all employees, the clock is ticking.
The Crucial Resource
NY State Department of Labor created a new website that is surprisingly accessible and useful and has all the basic information you need to know about the myriad of new requirements:
5 Key Tips
While certainly not as painful as dealing with an actual situation of sexual harassment, putting in place an effective sexual harassment prevention policy and sexual harassment training to comply with the new laws isn’t a walk in Central Park. Remember too that the purpose of sexual harassment training isn’t just to comply with the law; it’s actually to prevent sexual harassment and the many negative consequences for your people and business. While any training program in New York must now meet the standards of the new law, there are choices you can make that affect how assimilable and useful the training is for your specific business.
Create a Safe Space
As we all know, this topic can be very emotional. Some participants attend workshops with great reluctance. These are topics that can engender fears, both reasonable and unreasonable. This is particularly true in today’s #MeToo environment.
Some are concerned that they will be “caught,” even though their intent was honorable. Others feel that the law has gone too far, and protects the over-sensitive. Thus, one of the most helpful parts of an effective workshop is allowing time for participants to express their concerns and ask questions in a relatively safe environment. It is important that participants leave with confidence that they now have some skills to deal with potentially difficult situations and enough knowledge to avoid behaving inappropriately, and managers need to be able to increase the probability that complaints will be resolved in-house.
Customize the Training for Your Organization’s Environment
Any training you utilize should be customized for your culture, environment and needs. For those organizations who have employees from other countries, it is critical that you provide training in the appropriate languages and address the behaviors expected in your organizational culture. In addition, be sure to include relevant examples for your industry and workplace, while changing the names and circumstances to protect the innocent and guilty.
Encourage Both Individual and Bystander Responsibility
Individuals should be encouraged to take responsibility for communicating their boundaries to others and to communicate clearly when those boundaries are crossed. In addition, NYC law requires bystander training to help colleagues speak up appropriately. In fact, this is now considered best practice for all harassment prevention training.
Make it Interactive
New York State law explicitly requires that all training be interactive with the ability for participants to ask questions. Often participants are very reluctant to ask questions or to say what they really think in these workshops given the nature of the topic. At The Washington Firm’s training sessions, participants consistently give high marks to our use of “clickers,” where they can vote on multiple-choice questions without fear of being seen to be “wrong” or “insensitive.” It is consistently proved to be a powerful tool to keep participants engaged and curious about how others around them are thinking about these issues.
You Can Do It Yourself, But You Don’t Have To (with a nod to IKEA)
While New York State is providing strong resources, many HR departments still find it worthwhile to engage an expert firm who does this kind of training every day. Working with an expert HR company that has a specialty in sexual harassment prevention training can remove stress from your own HR function, while providing an engaging, interactive experience which generates thoughtful conversation and has a track record of helping to create a respectful work environment.