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Good Question: Is sexual harassment training mandatory for volunteers?

Pat Taney
Updated: October 28, 2019 01:01 PM
Created: October 28, 2019 09:12 AM

ROCHESTER, N.Y. (WHEC) — Many of you recently had to go through extensive sexual harassment training after a new law was passed in New York state, but there's some confusion over it. 

According to the new law, all paid employees have to go through the training, but what about people who volunteer for charities? Pat Taney was asked to look into it for this week's Good Question report.

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If you're a part time or full time paid employee, your employer should have held on-site sexual harassment training by now. The mandate requires all employers with offices in New York state to educate their workers on how to identify sexual harassment and how to report it.

"They have to provide training both at hire and then annually on an ongoing basis," said Adrienne Schleigh with HR Works.

But what if you're not a paid employee?

"When it comes to volunteers, technically they don't have to receive that training," Schleigh said. "However, there are a couple of good reasons why organizations should consider doing that."

The New York State Human Rights Law covers anyone who provides a service to an organization, meaning they could make a claim. 

"That's very broad," Schleigh said. "That includes vendors, consultants, contractors interns, and volunteers. So that's one good reason to offer the training."

The training will also protect both volunteers and paid employees with an organization.

"This includes the interaction they [paid workers] are having with volunteers," Schleigh said. "So because of this, we do advise that employers provide this to volunteers, so they understand both their rights and responsibilities."

Many volunteers who work other jobs received sexual harassment training at their workplace. We asked if that would be enough to cover them at the nonprofit where they volunteer. 

"Technically, you can accept that, however, New York state put the caveat there that the employer is still on the hook when something happens in the workplace," Schleigh said.

Experts say organizations should at least provide documents to their volunteers, informing them where to go to report abuse.

"A training that you receive at another location is not going to tell you where to go if -- as a volunteer-- you have an issue with the organization you are a part of," Schleigh said.

Point blank, if you lead a nonprofit, Schleigh advises you to play it safe.

"Put forth that good faith effort not just to comply with the law but to have a harassment-free environment," she said. "All employers should do that."

Technically, training should have been done by Oct. 9, but if you haven't done it, you're not alone.

The New York State Senate hasn't even completed it, and they passed it.

Senate Democrats say they won't break the new law if they hold training by the end of the year. They point to state guidelines giving employers leeway in choosing dates to meet the annual requirement.

Experts suggest if you haven't done it yet, do it as soon as possible.

Click here for more information on the new requirements. 

If you have a question you'd like answered, email goodquestion@whec.com.


Copyright 2019 - WHEC-TV, LLC A Hubbard Broadcasting Company

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