Employers have been given more time to provide sexual harassment prevention training to all employees.
The original deadline, Jan. 1, has been extended by New York State to Oct. 9, 2019. Still, employers are advised not to drag their feet and to start familiarizing themselves with requirements. They will have to give the training every year.
“Businesses should begin planning now and looking at their options,” said Aoifa O’Donnell, CEO of National EAP, a Hauppauge-based company that provides employee assistance programs, leadership coaching and training services including sexual harassment prevention.
She said the extension was well received by the employers EAP deals with.
“Employers were quite rushed to get it all done by year-end,” she said, noting the fourth quarter is typically the busiest time for businesses in general, and especially for HR departments. About half of the EAP clients that had booked training in the fourth quarter moved it to 2019's first quarter after the extension was given.
EAP provides a live 60-minute training session for employees and a 90-minute session for management.
The state Department of Labor and the Division of Human Rights, the agencies charged with developing harassment policy, have already released model sexual harassment prevention training guidance. An employer that doesn’t use the state’s model must ensure the training it provides meets or exceeds certain minimum standards, including providing examples of conduct that would constitute unlawful sexual harassment, says Jules Halpern, founding partner of the law firm Jules Halpern Associates in Garden City.
According to the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, it is unlawful to harass an applicant or employee because of that person’s sex. Harassment can include unwelcome sexual advances, requests for sexual favors, and other verbal or physical behavior of a sexual nature. But harassment also can include offensive remarks about a person’s sex, according to the EEOC.
One key requirement of training is that it has to be interactive, but not necessarily live, says Paul Scrom, a partner at Jules Halpern Associates. “It basically means there has to be a back and forth component,” he said, plus a platform for employees' questions, even if it’s web-based training.
The firm is getting multiple calls a day from businesses looking to get training, Halpern said. The firm's training takes about 60 to 90 minutes.
The mandated requirements are very similar to traditional training, said Domenique Camacho Moran, a partner in labor law at Farrell Fritz in Uniondale.
Expanded requirements include trainers' noting the alternate forums for resolving complaints soemployees know they can raise concerns internally or can go to the NYS Division of Human Rights and the EEOC.
There’s also more emphasis on stressing to employees the role of supervisors and their obligation to report any harassment they are told about or actually observe, says Moran. “That was normally just talked about in supervisor training,” she said.
Farrell Fritz has already completed its own internal training. It conducts employee training at firms generally in 90 minutes and supervisor/management training in two hours.
Firms are now required to do this training annually, says Barbara DeMatteo, director of HR consulting at Jericho-based Portnoy, Messinger, Pearl & Associates.
“The sooner they can start the clock, the better it will be,” she says, adding it can help them limit liability in the event of any claims.
Portnoy delivers live training at an employer’s site (generally an hour for employees and an additional hour suggested for managers), but also has an interactive web-based model that allows employees to ask questions andget answers in a timely manner, she says.
Keep in mind training must be given to all employees, including part-time, full-time, seasonal and temporary, said Scrom. There’s no minimum required hours of training, but new employees must be trained within a reasonable time frame, he says.
Use the training to open up dialogue within the organization. “The training’s an opportunity for a deeper conversation,” said O’Donnell.
Number of EEOC harassment lawsuits filed in fiscal 2018 that included allegations of sexual harassment, up more than 50% over fiscal 2017