PLATTSBURGH — New York is buckling down on workplace sexual harassment.
The Empire State adopted the nation’s toughest course of action against the behavior back in October.
Attorney Jacqueline Kelleher said, prior to that, sexual harassment was only prohibited.
“Now, employers must have a policy,” she said.
And, not only that, they are now required to provide employees with sexual harassment prevention training in line with state standards.
The Plattsburgh attorney recently recapped these added requirements to some area employers during a talk at the North Country Chamber of Commerce.
“You want a good workplace culture,” Kelleher said. “This new sexual-harassment law and regime in New York state can help with that.
“This is an opportunity for companies to do something of a reset.”
New York state defines sexual harassment as an unlawful form of sex discrimination under the basis of sex, sexual orientation, self-identified or perceived sex, gender expression, gender identity and the status of being transgender.
According to the new mandate, employers should have implemented a prevention policy by Oct. 9, 2018, Kelleher said.
“If you missed that deadline, life is not over,” she said. “You can still put a policy in place.”
That policy must hit on eight mandated requirements, including examples of prohibited conduct, a complaint form, a procedure outline and defined employee rights.
Though the state has a model prevention policy for employers to use, Kelleher advised they be cautious before planting that version in their employee handbooks.
“There are some things in it that are good,” she said. “But there are things in it that I strongly recommend that you change if you adopt it.”
One suggestion is in regard to procedure.
The New York state model policy says an individual who believes he or she has been subject to sexual harassment should report to either a supervisor, manager or other designated person.
Kelleher said that, for clarity purposes, a company should instead name two separate company titles for that purpose.
“There needs to be somebody designated in your company to receive complaints, and there needs to be an alternative person in your company to receive the complaints if the person designated is somehow involved,” she said.
“I recommend you do it by title so that every time someone leaves the company you don’t have to go back and put it in.”
Stafford, Owens, Piller, Murnane, Kelleher and Trombley PLLC is selling a combined policy that mixes the state’s new requirements with other anti-discrimination requirements for employers build into their handbooks, said Kelleher, who is a partner in that law firm.
The sexual-harassment training comes with its own list of standards.
New York requires the training to:
• Be interactive.
• Define sexual harassment.
• Include examples of sexual harassment.
• Outline employees’ rights.
• Include information addressing supervisor conduct.
Under the policy, supervisors and other shift leaders are given an additional responsibility: reporting.
“This is, to me, one of the toughest challenges of this whole new law,” Kelleher said.
The attorney said many employees at this level of management still work with their peers and may be unwilling to “snitch.”
Kelleher suggested employers talk with these individuals and say, “You are now in a ‘see something, say something’ role.
“We will work with you, we will support you.”
Employers should keep their employees’ training certificates for a minimum of three years, Kelleher said.
Email McKenzie Delisle:
The Chamber of Commerce will host an Employee Sexual Harassment Prevention Training from 8 to 10 a.m. Wednesday, March 6.
Debi Pettit, ETS Inc. director of organizational development, will run that session.
New York state has its model policy, training program and other resources online at: