On May 9th, Mayor Bill De Blasio signed the Stop Sexual Harassment in NYC Act, which will require all employers, regardless of their size, to enforce certain regulations pertaining to sexual harassment in the workplace.
From here on out, according to the law, sexual harassment is to be considered a form of discrimination. Following from this definition, employers of all sizes will have to implement rules barring all forms of gender-based harassment, as laid out by the New York City Commission on Human Rights (NYCCHR).
The law also extends the statute of limitations for sexual harassment claims filed with the NYCCHR from one year to three years.
In addition, employers with 15 or more employees must, by April 1st, 2019, train workers (and interns) in anti-sexual harassment policies. The law specifies that records of the trainings must be kept and maintained for at least three years.
Moreover, the law stipulates that, by September 6th, 2018, employers must hang the NYCCHR poster in a prominent place in the office, once a poster is made available.
There are a number of other provisions that will be implemented over time. For instance, on July 8th, city contractors will have to submit all data pertaining to issues of sexual harassment in a report that is already required by the city charter.
The sexual harassment training, which must take up 80 hours per year, will need to follow certain criteria. For instance, the training must be interactive; include definitions and examples of sexual harassment; and cover the complaint-filing process, at the city, state and federal level. To the latter, the training must give guidance on administrative complaint processes at the EEOC, the New York State Division on Human Rights and the NYC Commission on Human Rights. The City Commission will make available a boiler plate module, which can be used by employers to satisfy the requirements of the new law, so long as the company includes specific directions on how to file a complaint with the employer. It should be noted that the trainings do not have to be live – meaning they can be done online.
The interactive component must involve trainer-trainee interactions, audio-visual components or “other participatory forms of training.” In addition to explaining what unlawful sexual harassment looks like, the trainings must include directions on how to step-in when someone is being harassed in the work place.
All of that sounds rather thorough, but will it be enough to combat pervasive sexual harassment? Certain studies indicate that such trainings have consistently failed to produce meaningful results. A study conducted by the EEOC found that for 30 years, “much of the training […] has not worked as a prevention tool — it’s been too focused on simply avoiding legal liability.”
Mitch Keil, a clinical psychologist who runs his own training program, has pointed out the flaws, as he sees them, in the average training session. “I don’t feel like I have any more tools or skills to deal with this, and it felt like more of a checking-the-box organizational thing,” he said. He added: trainings that focus too much on definitions and abstractions – and not enough on meaningful action – fail to make an impact.
One study found that training can increase awareness through videos, questionnaires and worksheets, but without substantial intervention, men continue to have the same basic views. Another paper, authored by Elizabeth Tippett, of the University of Oregon School of Law, characterized the updated trainings this way: “Changes in training content over time are like software updates, periodically adding new features without fundamentally altering the nature of the training.”
Men Feel Blamed
Training can also have an alienating effect on men, who can sometimes feel enraged by the sessions. Alternatively, men can be made to feel less attacked when trainings include intervention models that guide male workers toward taking action rather than making them the center of blame.
In the end, more needs to be done; implementing training modules is not enough. Meaningful action must be taken in the workplace and beyond.