Vermont Passes New Sexual Harassment Law

In the latest example of “keeping up with the Joneses,” last week Vermont passed new legislation aimed at reducing (and publicizing) incidents of sexual harassment in the workplace. Similar to laws passed in many other states in the wake of the #MeToo movement, Vermont’s new law guarantees independent contractors, volunteers, and interns a working environment “free from harassment,” just as it does regular employees.

Changes to Settlement Agreements

Vermont no longer allows companies to prohibit individuals who have settled claims of sexual harassment with the employer from working with that organization in the future. This is a sweeping change that is unique in the country, in that it makes it easier for employees who resolve claims to return to their jobs, or work for the company where the incident occurred in the future.

Investigation Procedures Revamped

Investigation practices are also changing under the new Vermont sexual harassment law. Prior to the passage of this legislation the Vermont Attorney General did not have the specific right to visit places of employment and examine their harassment prevention practices. Beginning July 1, employers will need to watch out for representatives from the Vermont Department of Human Rights auditing practices or even ordering training sessions if they find deficiencies in organizational harassment prevention tactics.

Online Filing System Implemented for Charges of Harassment

Lastly, Vermont’s new law is making it easier for complainants to file charges of sexual harassment and discrimination by allowing charges to be filed wholly online. By eliminating physical steps to be taken, the legislature aims to streamline the process in hopes that more victims will come forward with allegations of harassment. Of course, whenever state legislatures take these steps it makes it easier for frivolous claims to also be filed, which is why educating your workforce on what harassment is (and is not) has become all the more important in the wake of the new law.

If you have employees in Vermont we encourage you to contact a member of Syntrio’s staff to learn more about training options that are available to you and your organization.

Syntrio is a leader in the human resources and employment law fields (as well as ethics and compliance) and is prepared to help your company implement a compliance program aimed at reducing the potential impact of harassment, discrimination and other employment law issues your organization may face. Syntrio takes an innovative philosophy towards employment law training program design and strives to engineer engaging, entertaining, and thought-provoking content.

 


Contact www.syntrio.com for more information about our discrimination, harassment, and prevention of retaliation online courses and remember to follow us on Facebook, TwitterGoogle Plus and LinkedIn for daily updates on corporate compliance that impact your company.


Written by, Jon Gonzalez, Esq., Chief Counsel for Syntrio

 

New York Passes Anti-Harassment Legislation: Let Syntrio Fulfill Your New Training Need

The past week has seen the harassment landscape in New York State change forever, as Governor Cuomo signed into law the New York State Legislature’s anti-harassment budget. Not to be outdone, New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio is expected to sign into law the “NYC Act,” which will amend New York City human rights law. Both laws create new requirements for employers in the city and state, but perhaps the most daunting requirement in each law is a mandate that employers within the State and City provide annual anti-harassment training for employees.

More than Just Training Requirements

In addition to the training mandate, the NYC Act brings several categories of workers under its umbrella, including contractors, subcontractor, vendors, consultants, and other persons who were not previously protected from misconduct by the City’s human rights laws. Further, the New York State law prohibits the use of nondisclosure (confidentiality) provisions in settlement or arbitration agreements relating to sexual harassment claims. Finally, the State law requires the distribution mandatory written policies aimed at prohibiting harassment in the workplace. In short, these laws, enacted within days of one another have created a significant burden on New York State and City employers, and the requirements begin going into effect soon.

Harassment Training Requirements

Because Syntrio is engaged in the business of fulfilling e-learning solutions to your harassment training needs, the crux of this article will focus on the requirements New York State and New York City have placed on employers with regard to training. You should first know that many of the articles you are reading claiming full knowledge of the requirements of these new laws are making assumptions before the laws are product[s]. Although the State and City laws provide a road map for what is coming, you should expect that regulations will be enacted to assist with implementation and compliance with both pieces of legislation that may ultimately change an analysis and interpretation of what is required in the training that is becoming mandatory in New York. So stay tuned for updates, as what we think we know at this moment may (and likely will) change.

What we Know

The New York State law is explicit in its requirement that employers must provide training to all employees. Unlike California, where supervisors must be trained once every two years on the avoidance of sexual harassment, the New York State law requires that each and every employee your company employs be provided the training annually. The laws also tell us that the New York Department of Labor will develop a model program that will be compliant and will be available for download by October 9, 2018.

Although the State has taken on the task of developing a model training that can allegedly be used by all employers, we can nearly assure you that there will be difficulty with using the State’s model training for your organization (we all know one-size-fits-all is not a quality approach to training), and this is a big reason why we are here to help. Syntrio’s training is more engaging, more concise, and more effective than what the State will be able to produce due to our vast experience and top-notch expertise in the field.

What We Don't Know: Murky Requirements (For Now)

Although the laws themselves tell us very little about the requirements of the law as they will actually be interpreted by the State and City (including the potential length requirement –likely between 1-2 hours-) we do know that the training you provide must be interactive, and provide an explanation of sexual harassment. Training must also provide examples of unlawful harassment, and discuss the federal and state statutes and remedies available to victims of harassment. Further, methods of addressing complaints (both administratively and judicially) must be discussed. In addition, the training you provide must clearly state that sexual harassment is a form of employee misconduct and sanctions will be levied against those who witness and allow it to continue, and must also mention that retaliation against those who complain is illegal.

How Can Syntrio Help?

Unquestionably, there is a lot to digest in the paragraphs above. Fortunately for you, Syntrio is always ahead of the curve when it comes to new harassment legislation and we have already begun pre-developing a course tailored to meet the needs of New York employers as the laws develop. Although the training requirement goes into effect on October 9, 2018, it is unclear at this moment when the training must be completed by all employees. Before you rush to get training complete prior to the enactment deadline, please check with Syntrio to ensure that you get the course that best suits your needs and is fully compliant with the requirements of both the New York State and New York City laws.

Syntrio is a leader in the human resources and employment law fields (as well as ethics and compliance) and is prepared to help your company implement a compliance program aimed at reducing the potential impact of harassment, discrimination and other employment law issues your organization may face. Syntrio takes an innovative philosophy towards employment law training program design and strives to engineer engaging, entertaining, and thought-provoking content.

 


Contact www.syntrio.com for more information about our discrimination, harassment, and prevention of retaliation online courses and remember to follow us on Facebook, TwitterGoogle Plus and LinkedIn for daily updates on corporate compliance that impact your company.


Written by, Jon Gonzalez, Esq., Chief Counsel for Syntrio

 

Where We Are Going We Don’t Need Roads

You may have put some thought into the effectiveness (or lack thereof) of your sexual harassment training in recent months. Perhaps the pervasiveness of news articles on the subject has piqued your interest, or [more hopefully] you are genuinely concerned with preventing misconduct in your organization. In either event, you may be thinking about how simple “check the box” training is not getting the job done. If so, you are probably right.

A number of studies in recent years have shown that all methods of compliance training, as most commonly presented, are ineffective.

This means that the lawyer in front of a lectern isn’t working, nor is the simple text-based program you are feeding your employees. At Syntrio we have put a lot of thought and hours into creating more effective training and do so in response to cries from the market for more engaging training.

According to a recent article in Chief Learning Officer, some companies are taking e-learning to the next level of empathy by placing users in a virtual reality environment with victims and harassers all at once. By using 360 video, there is the belief that a more immersed user will be a more engaged user. Although the end result is likely correct, the cost of such a program is obviously sky-high at the moment. Even as virtual reality headsets like Sony’s PlayStation VR drop in price on a near weekly basis, implementing a virtual reality training program at the moment is not cost-effective for most companies.

Syntrio has heard the calls for more engaging training and has listened. We are constantly developing new methods of immersive training that allows the user to position him or herself in the eyes of the victim and harasser alike, so as to connect with the training in a way that simply is not occurring in the marketplace (absent of extremely expensive technology like a virtual reality headset).

We believe the key to successful training lies in the writing.

Users are tired of reading about a random girl named Nicole, with whom they have no connection. We know that e-learning needs to do better, so we have taken the steps necessary to become more engaging and interactive in our sexual harassment training programs. Although you may not be strapping on a headset with 360-degree video in Syntrio’s programs you certainly will come away feeling emotionally connected to the programs in a way you will not with most products on the market. We invite you to contact us to learn more.

Syntrio is a leader in the human resources and employment law fields (as well as ethics and compliance) and is prepared to help your company implement a compliance program aimed at reducing the potential impact of harassment, discrimination and other employment law issues your organization may face. Syntrio takes an innovative philosophy towards employment law training program design and strives to engineer engaging, entertaining, and thought-provoking content.

 


Contact www.syntrio.com for more information about our discrimination, harassment, and prevention of retaliation online courses and remember to follow us on Facebook, TwitterGoogle Plus and LinkedIn for daily updates on corporate compliance that impact your company.


Written by, Jon Gonzalez, Esq., Chief Counsel for Syntrio

 

Pour Over Effect: Wine Bar Hit with Large Harassment Judgment

5th and Wine, a Scottsdale, Arizona wine bar recently faced claims of sexual orientation harassment and retaliation. According to the complaint, the bar did nothing to stop alleged harassment against two servers, which include name calling, inappropriate touching and sexually based comments. Specifically, the two servers alleged that they were harassed based on a perception of their sexual orientation, then were retaliated against for complaining about the harassment.

On March 21, 2018, the United States District Court for the District of Arizona ordered 5th and Wine to pay the servers $100,000 in compensatory and punitive damages following prosecution of the case by the United States Equal Employment Opportunity Commission. The EEOC filed its lawsuit several months ago, and 5th and Wine failed to appear in court, resulting in a default judgment against the wine bar.

The court found that not only did supervisors at 5th and Wine do nothing to prevent the harassment, in many cases they actually participated in the misconduct. As soon as one of the servers alerted the employer that he was planning on filing a complaint with the EEOC, he was immediately fired.

This case presents a growing problem in employment law: small companies with a duty to prevent harassment from occurring actually participating in the misconduct. Many times, particularly in smaller businesses, supervisors, managers, executives and owners are in charge of taking complaints, yet also are the ones engaging in the misconduct. The slippery slope that is created when an employee is fired after making a complaint only exacerbates the problem.

So what to do?

The first step in preventing incidents of misconduct is to become aware that you may have a problem. If you are allowing an environment of jokes and innuendo to continue in your business (whether employees seem to tolerate it or not) you likely have a culture of harassment. Your company needs to take dedicated steps to prevent misconduct and change the culture, followed by a plan of maintenance to ensure a respectful workplace that is encouraging of diversity in thought and ideas. As you can see here, doubling down on intolerance with adverse employment action can lead to a significant penalty. It is likely that 5th and Wine does not have $100,000 to simply “make this go away,” and no business should feel comfortable paying that sum for an inappropriate set of circumstances.

Contact Syntrio to learn more about how we can help your organization best position itself to prevent incidents of harassment in the workplace! 

Syntrio is a leader in the human resources and employment law fields (as well as ethics and compliance), and is prepared to help your company implement a compliance program aimed at reducing the potential impact of harassment, discrimination and other employment law issues your organization may face. Syntrio takes an innovative philosophy towards employment law training program design and strives to engineer engaging, entertaining, and thought-provoking content.

 


Contact www.syntrio.com for more information about our discrimination, harassment, and prevention of retaliation online courses and remember to follow us on Facebook, TwitterGoogle Plus and LinkedIn for daily updates on corporate compliance that impact your company.


Written by, Jon Gonzalez, Esq., Chief Counsel for Syntrio

 

Second Circuit Holds Title VII Prohibits Sexual Orientation Discrimination

On March 1, 2018, the United States Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit held in Zarda v. Altitude Express, Inc. that sexual orientation discrimination violates Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964. This is the second such decision in the last year, with the Seventh Circuit reaching the same conclusion in 2017. The two decisions holding that sexual orientation discrimination is indeed discrimination based on sex are in conflict with an Eleventh Circuit decision reaching the opposite conclusion, and make clear that this issue is ripe for review by the United States Supreme Court.

Although a near-majority of states outlaw sexual orientation discrimination via their state fair-employment laws, under the federal law there is no clear consensus. In recent years there has been a growing trend to bring sex-related issues within the purview of Title VII’s prohibition on discrimination based on sex, and the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission has prosecuted cases wherein plaintiffs were victims of discrimination based on their sexual orientation. That said, last week’s decision is a landmark for proponents of equality, and should have far-reaching implications in the coming months.

Clarity on the Issue

The Supreme Court declined to review this issue for the current term when there were just two circuits split in authority, but now that more Court of Appeals decisions are coming down there is a clear need for clarity on the issue. Although the Supreme Court is extremely unpredictable in its decision making, there has been a clear trend toward including sexual orientation within the protection afforded by Title VII in the district courts (as well as the aforementioned state laws).

If you are an employer who has yet to institute a policy prohibiting discrimination and harassment on the basis of sexual orientation, now would be a good time to do so, regardless of your jurisdiction’s current position on the issue. In addition to the legality of the issue, it is simply good practice to be more inclusive than the law on issues of discrimination and harassment. For that reason, now may be a good time to train your employees on issues of sex-based discrimination that they may not traditionally associate with their view of “sex discrimination” and what exactly that term means.

Syntrio is a leader in the human resources and employment law fields (as well as ethics and compliance), and is prepared to help your company implement a compliance program aimed at reducing the potential impact of harassment, discrimination and other employment law issues your organization may face. Syntrio takes an innovative philosophy towards employment law training program design and strives to engineer engaging, entertaining, and thought-provoking content.

 


Contact www.syntrio.com for more information about our discrimination, harassment, and prevention of retaliation online courses and remember to follow us on Facebook, TwitterGoogle Plus and LinkedIn for daily updates on corporate compliance that impact your company.


Written by, Jon Gonzalez, Esq., Chief Counsel for Syntrio