Workplace harassment laws getting stricter: What CFOs must know

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    To avoid costly legal trouble, it’s imperative for companies to evaluate their approach to workplace harassment right away.

    State legislators have a spotlight on this growing concern, with some moving full-speed ahead to pass more workplace harassment laws. Most recently, New York enacted new anti-harassment measures that apply to companies in both the public and private sectors.

    It’s an issue no CFO can afford to get involved in, whether or not you wear the HR hat.

    A trailblazing state

    Per the new law, employee workplace harassment claims no longer need to be “severe and pervasive” to succeed in New York. As of Oct. 11, 2019, employees only must show that they were subjected to “inferior terms, conditions or privileges of employment” because of their membership in one or more protected category.

    With a lower burden of proof, employees now have more reign to claim workplace harassment – and win expensive lawsuits – that could put your company in a legal and financial bind.

    Plus, that wasn’t the only big workplace harassment move from New York. The law included other notable changes CFOs should note and may see popping up in other states soon. Here are a few highlights:

    1. More written documentation: “At the time of hiring and at every annual sexual harassment prevention training,” a company must provide a notice to employees outlining its policy and the info presented during training as of Aug. 12, 2019.
    2. Expanded coverage: The law extends protections against discrimination and workplace harassment to certain nonemployees as of Oct. 11, 2019. That includes contractors, subcontractors, vendors, consultants or other persons providing services at your workplace.
    3. Longer timeframes: Employees will have three years instead of just one year to report sexual harassment claims to the state, effective Aug. 12, 2020.

    More to come?

    Though New York’s the first to remove the “severe and pervasive” standard, it’s certainly not the only state with workplace harassment on the legislative agenda. In 2018, 32 states looked at sexual harassment legislation. And in 2019, 29 states introduced 100 pieces of sexual harassment legislation, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures.

    This big move from New York could be a catalyst for other states to take more definitive action.

    So, no matter where your company’s located, this serves as a strong incentive to boost your workplace harassment policies and training. That way, you can steer clear of sensitive issues, time-consuming investigations and costly lawsuits altogether.

    Spearheading compliance

    Step one is tightening workplace harassment policies and providing any needed training now. After, you want to set your company up for ongoing success. With other leaders and HR, develop a regular schedule (e.g., quarterly, annually) to review and update your policies and procedures.

    Here are some questions to kick-start your discussion and ensure compliance:

    • Do employees receive additional training or guidance when promoted to managerial positions?
    • Do all employees know when and how to report harassment claims?
    • Have we outlined clear procedures for workplace investigations following a compliant?
    • Are our policies on par with all relevant state laws and recent court decisions?
    • Does our company culture and communication clearly support employees stepping forward to report instances of harassment?
    • Are we as leaders educated and prepped to address all kinds of harassment claims across the board (e.g., sexual harassment, gender bias, racial discrimination, pregnancy discrimination, transgender discrimination)?

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