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From Policies to Culture: Creating Safe Workplaces in New York

“Safety has to be everyone’s responsibility… everyone needs to know that they are empowered to speak up if there’s an issue.” — Captain Scott Kelly. While the female correction officers in New York say that the new Humane Alternatives for Long Term (HALT) Solitary Confinement Act has led to a 33% increase in sexual harassment, the Correction Officers Council is pushing for changes in the Act to ensure correctional facilities are safe workplaces for female officers. Assemblyman Phil Palmesano has expressed the stance that workplaces should not tolerate sexual assault. Furthermore, he has advocated for the elevation of the status of sexual assault against correction officers to a felony. Establishing secure and inclusive work environments across New York–extending to Seneca Falls–where harassment and discrimination are actively prevented, is an essential priority in today’s society.

Here’s how workplace safety has evolved in the recent years and what impact it has generated: 

Beyond Compliance — Combating Sexual Harassment in Workplaces

While harassment is banned under Article III of the Communications Workers of American Constitution, the NewsGuild of New York ensures transparency for anyone facing sexual harassment and discrimination. The international union allows individuals to file sexual harassment complaints while providing guidelines regarding what comes under this crime. While the Guild offers the common themes related to what comes under the umbrella of harassment, the real question is whether the laws are actually complied with. The Guild offers multiple services such as: confidential listening, complaint support, filing grievances, counseling, and the actions to be taken; for example, hiring a sexual harassment lawyer — complainants get all the guidance and support they need to fight against harassment in workplaces under the protection of New York State Division of Human Rights. With a study by the University of Manchester Institute of Science and Technology revealing that sexual harassment at workplaces accounts for economic losses ranging from 1% to 3.5% of the National Gross Domestic Product, the U.S. government is yet to take action against this crime on both the federal and state levels, as seen in New York with the consideration of tightening up sexual harassment laws

Diversity and Inclusion Initiatives: Dismantling Workplace Discrimination 

In the pursuit of creating safe workplaces, New York Governor Kathy Hochul signed the amendments to the State’s workplace anti-discrimination and harassment laws. Sections 296 and 297 of the New York Executive Law were amended prohibiting employers from disclosing employee personnel files unrestrictedly to prevent discriminatory practices while not only announcing a toll-free complaint hotline — but also encouraging employers to revise their policies of information sharing. The amendments have been effective since July 14, 2022, and have encouraged diversity and inclusiveness in workplaces all across New York when it comes to employee hiring while ensuring there are no biases due to information sharing. It has also been observed that any materials provided to employees regarding discrimination and harassment should contain the guidelines under the new legislation to ensure transparency. 

While the recent amendments to the New York Executive Law have been in practice, and there is a push for changes in the HALT Act, the New York State Division of Human Rights is yet to eradicate harassment and discrimination completely, despite the strengthening of legal repercussions. With potential amendments still under consideration by the New York State Assembly, the changes in the legal paradigm are yet to showcase their impact on workplaces throughout the State and yield long-term benefits for the employees in terms of job satisfaction.

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