The Aftermath of the Cuomo Investigation Report: Lessons for NY Employers

Employment Law

The sexual harassment allegations brought against former New York Governor Andrew Cuomo presents a reminder for employers to reassess workplace practices to minimize the likelihood of similar events occurring in the workplace. Among the many potential action items and considerations, below are tips on training, education, and communication that all employers should abide by:

  • Annual Harassment Prevention Training Policies

As you are aware, New York State mandates annual sexual harassment training for all employees.  This training is offered through a number of on-line sources, including New York State: https://www.ny.gov/combating-sexual-harassment-workplace/employers

  • Real-World Scenarios in Trainings

Consider addressing real-world scenarios relevant to the workplace.  There are practical difficulties in confronting unwelcome behavior when a significant disparity in power exists between the recipient of unwelcome conduct and the individual who is responsible for the conduct, and employers may wish to consider providing guidance on addressing such situations. Employers may also wish to consider training programs that address same-sex harassment, harassment of transgender employees, and harassment by customers or clients.  

  • Ensuring All Employees Complete Harassment Training

Employers should consider implementing processes to prevent employees from opting out of training or from allowing surrogates to take the training for them.  

  • Respectful-Workplace Training

In addition to providing training about unlawful harassment, employers may wish to consider providing training that underscores an expectation of respectful interaction generally, regardless of the participants involved, their genders or other protected characteristics, or their respective levels of authority.  

  • Managers’ Obligations to Report Behavior

Providing distinct or additional training for managers about their obligations may serve to minimize the likelihood that policies exist on paper only. Provide clear examples covering topics such as addressing circumstances when a victim conveys hesitancy or unwillingness to initiate the reporting process.  

  • Channels for Reporting Concerns

Although many employers have established several channels for employees to report concerns, it may also be appropriate to ensure that information about those channels is easily accessible to employees, including those who may be new to an organization or hold temporary positions, and to provide options for anonymously reporting information. Employers may also wish to consider requiring employees, particularly those at higher levels of organizations, to certify annually or at other regular intervals that they are not aware of any behavior that violates anti-harassment policies. Such measures may help to prompt additional reporting of issues before they mushroom into matters with the potential to cause significant reputational and/or monetary damage.

  • Educating Employees on Procedures for Investigating Workplace Concerns

Employers in New York must include in their sexual harassment prevention policies a “standard complaint form” and “a procedure for the timely and confidential investigation of complaints.”

A resource for all of the training covered in this update is Ethan Allen HR Services located in Poughkeepsie (471-1200).

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