New York just took a huge step in protecting people in its state from sexual harassment. This new law may set a precedent and is something other states may want to pay attention to. Here’s why.
All employers in New York state regardless of the number of employees are now required to provide information on the New York State’s Division of Human Rights (DHR) newly established hotline to employees regarding sexual harassment. This includes all things like handbooks, policies, annual training and workplace postings. And the materials must be provided in English and an employee’s primary language, if it is Spanish, Chinese, Korean, Polish, Russian, Haitian-Creole, Bengali or Italian.
The toll-free, confidential hotline, which is being operated by the New York State DHR, enables people experiencing workplace harassment to access pro bono counsel Monday through Friday from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. Non-employees, such as contractors, subcontractors, vendors, consultants or anyone providing a service in the workplace, are also protected from harassment. In addition, people who provide equipment repair, cleaning services, or “any other services provided pursuant to a contract with the employer” are protected.
“Every worker deserves access to resources to protect themselves from sexual harassment,” said Governor Hochul. “New York State has taken action to make the workplace safer, more respectful, and more collaborative, and we will never stop working to support survivors and eliminate the scourge of sexual harassment.”
What is harassment?
In New York, harassment is defined as “illegal acts committed by a perpetrator who has the intent to harass, annoy, or alarm another person.” Being rude or obnoxious isn’t considered harassment. But there are four levels of harassment in New York that you will want to familiarize yourself with.
While the law’s effective date was July 14, the required information wasn’t available at that point for publication, but now it is.
New York employers must now provide employees with the hotline number 1-800-HARASS-3 (1-800-427-2773) in all their materials that address sexual harassment. While employers don’t have to get a signed acknowledgment of having read the policy, they’re encouraged “to keep a signed acknowledgment” and a copy of training records. The thought process is that having the signed acknowledgment can help protect employers from future complaints or lawsuits.
This is the next step in protecting employees from sexual harassment in the workplace. On Aug. 12, 2019, legislation was enacted that strengthened protections against discrimination and harassment under the New York State Human Rights law.
There are three ways employees can file a complaint with the DHR
- go to the DHR File A Complaint page
- call 888-392-3644
- visit a Division of Human Rights office and file a complaint in person.
“Sexual harassment has a devastating impact and is difficult to face alone. We will work to ensure that every New Yorker is able to full advantage of their rights and protections under the Human Rights Law,” said Division of Human Rights Commissioner Maria Imperial.
So, if you’re an employer in New York, it’s time to break out your handbooks, policies, posters, and any other material you provide employees that touch on the topic of sexual harassment and revise them as needed to stay in compliance.
If you’re not located in New York state, stay tuned. Legislation like this may be in your not-too-distant future.