In the wake of the #MeToo movement and a rise in sexual harassment complaints, many states are adopting Sexual Harassment Prevention Training laws.
First stop, California.
Harassment prevention training isn’t new to the state of California. The first law (AB 1825) mandating training was signed in 2004.
AB 1825 required all employers with 50+ employees provide two hours of interactive training with specific content to supervisors at hire and then every two years via classroom or webinar and keep records of participation. (Newly promoted supervisors were required to take the training within six months of assuming their roles.) Supervisors in other states who had CA employees on their teams were also included in the law.
In 2018, Governor Brown upped the ante, signing SB 1343. This bill expands the previous law and now requires all employers with 5 or more employees to provide this training to all employees by December 31, 2019, and every two years thereafter. Supervisors will need two hours of training and non-supervisors at least an hour. Starting in 2020, temporary and seasonal employees will also need to take training after 30 days or 100 hours or service.
While the state has provided materials to help organizations develop their own training program, and works to develop a web-based program for employer use (completion date TBD) all CA employers (or those with supervisors or employees in California) are urged to review the requirements in full (including type of training, trainer credentials and content) on the DFEH website.
Meanwhile, in New York…
The state of New York is working hard to align themselves with the state of California in regard to state employment laws. Most recently and similar to the California SB 1243 bill, New York adopted the “Combating Sexual Harassment in the Workplace” law, which requires all employers with 1 or more employees in the state of New York to establish a Sexual Harassment Prevention policy and conduct annual Sexual Harassment Prevention Training. This law went into effect on October 9, 2018 and also requires employers to conduct their first round of training by October 9, 2019 and annually thereafter. In addition to state law, the New York City Human Rights Commission adopted Local Law 96 of 2018, “Stop Sexual Harassment in NYC Act,.” which became effective on April 1, 2019. The NYC local law requires all New York City employers with 15 or more employees to provide annual anti-harassment training.
Although there is overlap between the state and NYC sexual harassment laws, both agencies have adopted minimum requirements for Sexual Harassment Prevention policies and training; however, NYC does have some additional training and record retention requirements, as well as a required notice. Both the state and local agencies have created a model policy, training materials and training videos, which can be found the state website https://www.ny.gov/combating-sexual-harassment-workplace/employers. Employers are given the option to use the model policy and/or training or they may adopt their own policies and training, as long as it meets the minimum requirements under the law.
What happens if my organization doesn’t comply?
While neither state mentions fines or penalties associated with non-compliance as of yet, if your company does end up needing to defend itself in a harassment lawsuit, one key thing will more than likely be explored is whether your leadership did everything they could to prevent and stop harassment in your workplace. This includes notifying employees of your policies around harassment, dealing with potential harassment claims in a timely, effective manner and ensuring your employees have received the training required by state law.
This article does not constitute legal advice and there are subtle variations in employment law as it pertains to this topic, depending on where your business operates. It is strongly suggested that you seek consultation or legal counsel before making decisions about policies.
By Lisa Porro & Julie Morgan