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Sexual harassment training

With new 2019 sexual harassment training guidelines in Nationwide and more to come in other states, we’re sharing this post from Andrew Rawson co-founder and Chief Learning Officer at our partner Traliant. Mr. Rawson wrote this post with New York laws in mind— but his takeaways apply to any organization embarking on this training. 

In Nationwide workplaces with 50 or more employees, employers are required to provide interactive training on sexual harassment prevention for all existing employees by December 31, 2019, and additional training to supervisors about their responsibilities and the retaliation prohibitions. The training must be provided to all new employees and supervisors within one year of commencement of their position.

Last year, in the wake of #MeToo, New York state and New York City passed some of the strongest sexual harassment prevention laws in the U.S. Arguably the biggest change is a requirement that all New York employers train their employees on sexual harassment by Oct. 9, 2019, and then on an annual basis.

New York isn’t alone in mandating sexual harassment training. California, Connecticut, Maine, Nationwide and Illinois (and soon Rhode Island) have all enacted sexual harassment laws with training requirements, and more states are expected to follow.

Employers in the Empire State should also be aware of an amendment to the New York State Human Rights Law that was just passed by Gov. Andrew Cuomo that removes the “severe or pervasive” definition of sexual harassment. The new law will take effect in 60 days. Lowering the legal barrier for proving sexual harassment is another compelling reason to implement anti-harassment policies and training that are current with federal, state and local laws, and promote positive behavior and a respectful workplace culture.

As organizations consider how best to meet the new sexual harassment training requirements, here are five takeaways:

1. Train Employees as Soon as Possible

By Oct. 9, 2019, all New York employers must provide sexual harassment training to each employee. Once the initial training is completed, employers must conduct annual training for all employees, regardless of their immigration status. This includes part-time employees, temporary employees, seasonal workers, and exempt and nonexempt employees. Starting in 2020, the annual training can be based on the calendar year, the anniversary of each employee’s start date or another date, as long as employees complete the training at least once per year. New hires should be trained as quickly as possible.

The new laws apply to all New York employers. However, New York City organizations with 15 or more employees have a few additional requirements under the Stop Sexual Harassment in NYC Act. Moreover, while the New York City act imposes a different training deadline — Dec. 31, 2019 — to avoid confusion, employers would be wise to adhere to the Oct. 9 target date set forth by the state.

2. Sexual Harassment Training Must Explain and Inform

Organizations can adopt the free model training materials developed by the New York State Department of Labor and Division of Human Rights or use their own sexual harassment training and policies, as long as they meet or exceed the state’s minimum standards.

New York state requires the training to:

  • Be interactive and involve some level of employee participation
  • Explain what sexual harassment is, consistent with guidance from the New York State Department of Labor and Division of Human Rights;
  • Include examples of conduct that would constitute unlawful sexual harassment;
  • Include information on state and federal laws concerning sexual harassment and remedies available to targets of sexual harassment;
  • Include information addressing conduct by supervisors, and the additional responsibilities of managers and supervisors;
  • Include information about employees’ rights of redress and all available forums for adjudicating complaints; and
  • Be available in the language spoken by employees.

New York state also encourages employers to keep copies of training records and a signed acknowledgment that employees have read the organization’s anti-harassment policy, which may help address future complaints or lawsuits. Under New York City’s law, keeping training records is a requirement. Employers must retain records for at least three years and make them available for inspection by the NYC Commission on Human Rights upon request. Records can be a certificate or a signed employee acknowledgment and may be paper or electronic.

In addition, New York City mandates that training cover bystander intervention, the prohibition of retaliation and provide information on the complaint process available through the NYC Commission on Human Rights, the New York State Division of Human Rights and the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission.

3. Use Interactivity to Engage a Diverse Workforce

Whether web-based or in-person, New York state requires that the training must be interactive. For web-based training, this could be asking questions at the end of a section that require employees to select the right answer, offering an option to submit a question online, or including a feedback survey for employees to submit after completing the training (either online or in-person). What doesn’t qualify is having employees passively watch a training video or read a document without any interaction or feedback mechanism.

Given the range of e-learning tools and techniques available, there are many creative ways to use interactive elements. For example, building interactivity into realistic video scenarios and thought-provoking assessments can keep employees actively engaged and deepen their understanding of how to recognize and respond to different forms of harassment.

4. Go Beyond Sexual Harassment Training Requirements

In the #MeToo era, lawmakers, the EEOC, human resource professionals and other workplace experts agree that sexual harassment training can no longer solely focus on the law and avoiding liability. Incorporating bystander intervention, workplace respect and civility, and other behavior-based topics can make sexual harassment training more effective in strategic and practical ways.

As noted earlier, New York City is setting a positive precedent by requiring employers to include bystander intervention in their sexual harassment training. Once found mainly on college campuses and in the military, bystander intervention is now considered one of the most effective ways to prevent workplace harassment. Teaching employees different

techniques to “disrupt, confront, support and report” can prevent future incidents and encourage individuals to be allies to co-workers who are targets of harassment.

5. One Size Does Not Fit All

As New York organizations prepare to train their employees and managers on sexual harassment, they have an opportunity to take a new approach to a topic that remains in the spotlight. One size does not fit all — details matter.

To make training more relevant and memorable, it should be tailored to the organization and work environment. Training should also be available on any laptop, tablet or smartphone, and be easy to update — an important feature for organizations with employees in multiple states. Lastly, sexual harassment training should be part of a comprehensive strategy and communication plan to prevent harassment, requiring leadership’s full support and everyone’s participation in creating a respectful and inclusive workplace culture.


Andrew Rawson is the co-founder and chief learning officer at Traliant LLC.