Earlier this year, New York State adopted new legislation (included in the state's budget) designed to expand worker protections against sexual harassment. Pursuant to this legislation, the governor's office created a Combating Sexual Harassment in the Workplace website, which includes a model sexual harassment policy for employers. All New York State employers are required to have such a policy in place no later than October 9, 2018.
Here is a brief rundown of the model policy's key provisions:
- Defining Harassment: The policy explains that state law prohibits “harassment on the basis of sex, sexual orientation, gender identity and the status of being transgender.” Harassment, in turn, includes any “unwelcome conduct” of a sexual nature or that is “directed at an individual because of that individual's sex,” and which is intended to interfere with their work. Harassment may include, but is not limited to, physical assaults of a sexual nature, the use of “sexually oriented gestures,” or the display or publication of “sexually demeaning or pornographic material” in the workplace. Harassment may also occur between any individuals regardless of employment status–i.e., New York law protects interns, independent contractors, and “non-employees” in addition to traditional employees.
- No Retaliation: The policy reiterates that it is unlawful for an employer to take any “adverse action” against an employee who wants to come forward “to make or support a sexual harassment claim.” Retaliation is not limited to job-related decisions.
- Reporting Harassment: The policy encourages all employees, not just those in management, to “report” any behavior that might constitute sexual harassment to an appropriate person. The policy includes a written complaint form for employees to use. The policy also makes it clear that “all supervisors and managers” who observe sexual harassment, or receive information regarding possible harassment, are “required” to report it to their own supervisor or designated contact person.
- Investigating Harassment: The policy states the employer must investigate any complaint of sexual harassment, even if it is made orally rather than in writing. The investigation “should be completed within 30 days” and conducted in as “confidential” manner as possible. Any persons involved in the investigation must be afforded “due process,” and any employee “may be required to cooperate as needed” in the investigation. The employer must “[c]reate a written documentation of the investigation” and promptly notify the complaining parties of what “corrective actions,” if any, are taken.
- External Remedies: The policy reminds all employees that they have the right to pursue “legal remedies” with federal, state, and city regulators outside of the employer's internal process.
Speak with a New York City Sexual Harassment Lawyer Today
It is important to note that merely adopting the model policy will not insulate an employer from charges of illegal sexual harassment. After all, a policy must be enforced to be effective. If you have been the subject of sexual harassment and believe your employer has not taken appropriate steps to remedy the situation, you need to speak with a qualified New York employment law attorney as soon as possible. Contact the Law Offices of White, Nisar & Hilferty, LLP, today if you need immediate legal assistance.