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It’s Time to Educate Employees on Sexual Harassment

Bill Morris in Building Operations on February 19, 2019

New York City

Governance: Harassment
Feb. 19, 2019

What’s happening. In response to the #MeToo movement, New York State and New York City have passed laws intended to prevent sexual harassment in the workplace. 

What you need to know. Both laws require virtually all employers, including co-op and condo boards, to adopt and distribute an anti-sexual harassment policy, along with complaint forms. It doesn’t stop there. Employers must also conduct interactive employee-training sessions. The state law covers buildings with two or more employees; the city law covers buildings with 15 or more employees. 

The big question: what exactly do these training sessions need to include? “There are several options,” says attorney Andrew I. Bart of Borah Goldstein Altschuler Nahins & Goidel. “One, boards and their managing agents can wait until April 1, when the city’s training program requirements go into effect. Second, if the managing agent chooses to go with the state format, they can hire a third party to conduct the training – a law firm or a human resources agency that specializes in this training.” 

Go deeper. “If a co-op or condo board doesn’t want to go to the expense of hiring a third party,” Bart says, “they can use the New York State training video that’s already online.” The video covers a wide range of topics, including forbidden acts – such as displaying pornographic images or making sexually oriented remarks – as well as methods for reporting and investigating sexual-harassment complaints. 

One level deeper. Simply showing the video to employees does not satisfy the law. “There has to be an interactive component to the training sessions,” Bart says. “Employees can’t just watch the video – that’s not going to fly. There has to be a Q & A session after the video is shown, or some sort of testing to prove that the employee has grasped the lesson. For example, you might ask the employee: ‘If you believe you have experienced sexual harassment, who should you talk to about it?’” The state has an FAQ page on its website to answer additional questions. 

Protect yourself. Though the state law does not require employers to verify that they are in compliance, Bart advises boards and their managing agents to protect themselves. “I would recommend that the managing agent gets every employee to sign a form saying they’ve been part of anti-sexual harassment training on such and such a date. And keep that in your files. It’s good protection if a co-op or condo is hit with a sexual-harassment complaint.” 

Is there a deadline? Yes. The deadline for complying with the state’s training requirement has been extended from January 1, 2019, to October 9, 2019. New employees must be trained “as soon as possible” and not, as previously suggested, within 30 days of hire. Employers may choose to wait to begin their training sessions until the city law’s requirement kicks in on April 1, 2019

The bottom line. Complying with the law won’t guarantee anything, but compliance is mandatory. “It’s not a prophylactic that will prevent you from being sued, but you must do it,” Bart says. “It’s a worthwhile law, but it’s going to add a tremendous burden to every managing agent’s repertoire.”

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