The size and diversity of New York City puts employees of all different types, and genders, in close contact. Sometimes, that can result in sexual harassment. In response to the #MeToo and Stand Up movements sweeping the nation, the New York City Council has decided to take the lead, passing the “Stop Sexual Harassment in NYC Act.” But will it be enough to change hearts and minds?
In this blog post I will discuss the Stop Sexual Harassment in NYC Act recently passed by the New York City Council. I will explain what the bills do to fight sexual harassment, and whether some experts believe it will be enough to change hostile workplace culture.
On April 11, 2018, the New York City Council passed one of the strictest anti-sexual harassment ordinances of any state or municipality in the United States. The “Stop Sexual Harassment in NYC Act” goes well beyond federal, or even state Civil Rights laws, to explicitly protect NYC employees from harassment on the job.
The Stop Sexual Harassment in NYC Act Creates Protections for Public and Private Employees
The Stop Sexual Harassment in NYC Act is actually a package of bills, each of which adds, strengthens, or amends existing civil rights ordinances already in place within the city. The Act is designed to extend protections to every NYC employee, whether they work for the government, a large private employer, or a small business in the boroughs.
The package of bills contain a number of sexual harassment protections. The NYC Human Rights Law (NYCHRL) has been amended to explicitly ban sexual harassment, and the city has called on Congress and the President to pass federal bill S.2203/H.R.4734, “Ending Forced Arbitration of Sexual Harassment Act of 2017.”
(Read More about mandatory arbitration in employment contracts.)
For city government agencies, and the offices of the borough presidents, comptroller and public advocate, the Act also requires:
- Annual reports of sexual harassment incidents to the Department of Citywide Administration Services
- Annual climate surveys of public employees to gauge awareness of federal and local civil rights protections
- Production of sexual harassment prevention and response policies from all contractors and subcontractors working for the city
- Broad review of city policies by the newly founded Charter Revision Commission
In the private sector, the Act:
- Amends the NYCHRL to remove the minimum employee limit
- Requires anti-sexual harassment posters be displayed at all work sites
- Extends the time period to file a sexual harassment claim from 1 to 3 years after the incident
The most ground-breaking provision of the Stop Sexual Harassment in NYC Act is that it requires annual anti-sexual harassment training for all public agencies and private employers with at least 15 employees. The City Commission on Human Rights has been directed to put together a website including an online training program designed to prevent sexual harassment through employee education.
The New York City Council is proud to be putting forward such an aggressive set of regulations. Speaker Cory Johnson said in a statement:
“With the #MeToo and the Time’s Up movements, we have seen that women are forces to be reckoned with, and they made loud and clear that enough is enough. The beginning of the end starts with New York City. All New Yorkers are entitled to a safe, respectful workplace, and this package of legislation sends a strong message to public and private employers that there is no place for sexual harassment in our City.”
Commentators Question Effectiveness of Online Anti-Sexual Harassment Training
The Stop Sexual Harassment in NYC Act is one of the first of its kind, mandating annual anti-sexual harassment training across public and private employers. But some commentators are questioning whether the Act will be effective in changing workplace behavior. Jackie Wattles and Julia Carpenter, of CNN Money, explain that many large employers already use the kind of “online interactive” program that would satisfy the Act’s annual training requirement. They say:
“Frequently they are slide after slide of graphics depicting scenarios in which a male colleague makes an inappropriate advance or remark about a female colleague. The multiple-choice questions require you to select an often unrealistic ‘right answer.’
It’s easy to click your way through such trainings and forget it ever happened. Research shows the training videos are not as effective as once thought.”
They say that where sexual harassment is already a part of workplace culture, mandatory training videos won’t solve the problem. And when training illustrations focus on stereotypical demographic arrangements — such as a white man is harassing a woman of color — they can even have the opposite effect, leaving men feeling “blamed, isolated, or angered.”
Instead, Wattles and Carpenter encourage New York City employers to engage in training tailored to specific workplaces over cookie-cutter training programs. They also said programs are much more effective when they focus on bystander intervention and empower men to help stop the problem, rather than calling out mistakes that could be made.
The New York City Commission on Human Rights has until April 2019, when the bill takes effect, to create its online training program. Creating a one-size-fits-all solution that will adequately address the spectrum of anti-sexual harassment needs is a tall order. It will take time to test the effectiveness of any solution put forward and to tweak the system to do the most good for New Yorkers facing sexual harassment at work.
If you are facing sexual harassment or other forms of gender discrimination at work, the sexual harassment attorneys at Eisenberg & Baum, LLP, are here to help. From our headquarters in the heart of New York City, we represent the victims of hostile work environments in state and federal court, and in front of regulatory agencies at every level of government. We can help you understand your rights and choose the best option to protect your interests. Contact Eisenberg & Baum, LLP, today to talk to an employment discrimination attorney.