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Deadline looms in sexual harassment prevention training

Sexual harassment prevention training for employees should include

Sexual harassment prevention training for employees should include examples of conduct that would constitute unlawful sexual arassment, plus information on rights of redress and all available forums for adjudicating complaints. Photo Credit: Getty Images/iStockphoto/Cn0ra

As summer begins to fade away, an Oct. 9 deadline looms on sexual harassment prevention training for all employees.

Late last year, New York employers were given a nine-month extension from an original Jan. 1 state proposed deadline.

Now  employers are encouraged to not delay.   All employers regardless of size must train their workers, experts say.

“Don’t put your head in the sand and wake up and it’s Oct. 10 and you’re not in compliance,” says Christine Malafi, a senior partner at Ronkonkoma-based Campolo, Middleton & McCormick LLP, which has been administering training for clients.

She said some firms are scrambling now  that the deadline is fast approaching. Smaller firms in particular may not realize the training is required.

Andrew Lieb, founder and chief compliance officer at Smithtown-based Lieb Compliance, which provides discrimination prevention training, says he’s had many conversations with small businesses that mistakenly  believe they don't have to do the training.

Still, it’s not too late to comply with the law, says Malafi, noting, “I think no one’s behind the eight ball yet.”

The NYS Department of Labor and the Division of Human Rights have already released model sexual harassment prevention training guidance. (See  ny.gov/combating-sexual-harassment-workplace/employers.)

An employer that doesn’t use that model must ensure its training meets or exceeds certain minimum standards, says Malafi.

Among requirements: The training must be interactive, include examples of conduct that would constitute unlawful sexual harassment, and include information  on employees’ rights of redress and all available forums for adjudicating complaints.

The interactive training does not have to be live, says Lieb.

For example, Lieb offers an on-demand training platform with audio and video that  enables questions and answers.

Many clients prefer the on-demand option, he says.

One such client, Cheryl Rera, an HR director at Professional Group Plans in Hauppauge, said the video allowed employees to do it conveniently at their own pace.

 She sent out the link to the training portal to employees in March and gave employees until May 1 to complete the training.

She got status updates weekly from Lieb on their progress so she could follow-up with employees if necessary.

The training must be done annually and also must be given to any new hires as soon as possible, says Lieb.

State legislation awaiting the governor’s signature lowers the standard on what could be considered unlawful harassment from conduct deemed “severe or pervasive” to conduct rising above the level of “petty slights and trivial inconveniences.” If signed, that law could alter training down the line.

“I think we’ll have to see the state’s guidance with regards to the lessening of the standard,” says Glenn Grindlinger, a partner of Fox Rothschild LLP in Manhattan.

But  he believes employers that already administered training this year  will likely be able to wait until the next time they do their training to include any new standards.

NYC already has adopted this lower standard, he says, so he already goes over the statute with clients.

Grindlinger says the training he provides usually  ranges from 90 minutes to two hours.

There’s no minimum required number of hours, says Malafi, whose training takes about an hour for employees and  double that for managers and supervisors.

“The new law makes it clear that managers and supervisors have heightened duties under the law,” she says, noting companies should be proactive in completing the training.

Carmine Inserra, CEO of ProSysCon Computer Technologies Inc. consultants in East Setauket, agrees.

He and his employees  were trained in May  by Malafi  in a group session organized by the Three Village Chamber of Commerce.

“First and foremost," he says, "I want to promote a safe work environment regardless of the law.”

Fast Fact:

Sexual harassment can lead to the loss of employees. A survey conducted by Edison Research last year found that 52% of those who have experienced sexual harassment in the workplace says they made a job change because of the harassment.

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