As we reported in our blog post, and our summer newsletter, in late June, the New York Legislature passed a bill that vastly changed the discrimination and harassment landscape for employers. Today, Gov. Cuomo signed that bill into law.
As a result, employers likely now need to change their New York state-required anti-harassment policies and training. Specifically, policies and training should be reviewed to ensure that any reference to the severe and pervasive standard be eliminated and a strong emphasis be placed on the employer’s receptiveness to any and all complaints and how the employer will react swiftly to such complaints. Additionally, policies and training should be reviewed to ensure that they include the enhanced protections the law provides to other protected classes that previously only applied to sexual harassment.
Under the new law, employers can be held responsible even when an employee has not complained internally, so employers also should start making additional efforts to ensure their employees are happy and harassment is not occurring. It is also imperative for employers to play up their anti-retaliation provisions in this new construct – if employees are concerned they will be retaliated against, they are sure to not report problems to the company, and under this new law, they don’t have to. To accomplish both of these goals – instilling good morale and creating an open atmosphere where employees feel comfortable speaking to managers – employers might consider instituting town hall meetings or other similar touch-base meetings between management and employees, utilizing an anonymous hotline, hiring an ombudsperson, undertaking an immediate investigation of any complaints made (including those that do not meet the old standard of severe and pervasive), and providing and encouraging team-building activities. Perhaps most important, employers should ensure that management is present and engaged in all training and team-building activities and that management (not just those in human resources and legal) take immediate action with regard to any inappropriate behavior, not just behavior that meets the old standard of severe or pervasive.