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Sexual Harassment Obligations and the Remote Workplace

Jacob S. Claveloux
May 14, 2020

          For many employers in New York State, the move to virtual workplaces due to the COVID-19 pandemic has created all sorts of new responsibilities and issues to manage. One issue that should not get lost in the shuffle is the responsibility to continue to comply with the expanded sexual harassment responsibilities that were mandated throughout the state in 2018. That expansion of the sexual harassment laws in New York included an obligation that all employers provide annual sexual harassment trainings to their entire workforce. The state has not relaxed that requirement due to COVID-19; therefore, New York employers must continue to provide these trainings notwithstanding the current climate, if it has been a year since the last training. Fortunately, the training may be conducted remotely, so long as there is an “interactive” component. This requirement can be met through a live remote training, which we can present to our clients via Zoom or other conferencing technologies. This requirement may also be met by utilizing New York City’s online training (available here: https://www1.nyc.gov/site/cchr/law/sexual-harassment-training.page), if it is easier for an employer to have their employees attend individually rather than communally during a live training. We have found that this option may be convenient for many employers, particularly in the remote office environment under COVID-19, but a key missing component of such a training is the opportunity to ask questions to a live presenter, which can be of great value.

          In addition to the reminder that annual training is still required, employers are advised to remain alert to the responsibilities under the law to prevent sexual harassment in the workplace, which does include the virtual workplace that so many are working in now. Employers must ensure that all employees know about their right to report suspected harassment, even if such harassment takes place via remote working environments or social media. While many assume that such behavior is less likely to occur without in-person interaction, the fact is that many incidents of harassment do indeed occur outside the office and on social media. And an employer’s legal obligation to investigate all claims made in a timely manner has not changed, even if the employer has to do so remotely.

          Please contact us if you would like to better understand your continued obligation to prevent sexual harassment in your workplace.