- A bill proposed Feb. 18 by New Jersey's Democratic governor, Phil Murphy, would require employers in the state to adopt a written nondiscrimination policy establishing policies and procedures against unlawful discrimination and harassment.
- Employers would be required to disseminate the written policy at least once annually to all employees, and whenever updates to the policy are made. Employers with 50 or more employees would be required to collect and annually report various data on received unlawful workplace discrimination or harassment complaints.
- Beginning one year from the effective date, the proposal would also require New Jersey employers to provide interactive training on preventing unlawful discrimination and harassment, including sexual harassment, within 90 days of an employee’s initial hire, and to all employees at least once every two years. The training would need to be reviewed by employers "at least annually" to ensure compliance.
The bill continues a trend among state and local governments, particularly those governed by Democratic majorities, of addressing harassment and discrimination both in the workplace and elsewhere following the #MeToo movement's growth in the past three years.
Murphy, speaking about the proposal, has made the connection explicit. "The message from survivors and advocates alike has been clear: It's time for New Jersey to reject the norms of yesterday that overlooked workplace harassment and discrimination as business as usual," the governor said in a Feb. 18 statement.
Should New Jersey adopt the bill, it would become the sixth state to adopt state-wide sexual harassment training requirements, by present count. The most recent state to do so is Illinois, where the state's Department of Human Rights has developed a sexual harassment training program that employers must provide at least once per year.
The New Jersey bill notably makes specific provisions for small employers, defined as those with 50 or fewer employees. For example, the bill would direct New Jersey's Division on Civil Rights to develop a training module for such employers to use "at no cost," if they choose to do so. Small employers in the state would still be able to adopt their own training that meets the bill's minimum requirements.
As state and local governments develop harassment and discrimination training legislation, federal enforcement of anti-discimination and anti-harassment laws has continued with notable results. The U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) reported in January that it received fewer sexual harassment complaints in its 2019 fiscal year, continuing a downward trend for the agency. However, EEOC still reported an increase in the number of race-based discrimination complaints and pay discriminaton complaints.
Employers have attempted to improve their internal handling of sex harassment complaints in numerous ways, including the elimination of mandatory arbitration clauses for victims of sex harassment and assault. Despite efforts to improve training and prevention, not all commentators are convinced that HR departments are effective at stamping out harmful behaviors.
Federal, state and local laws vary on some forms of discrimination. Federal protections against discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation and gender identity, for example, are caught up in a pair of ongoing U.S. Supreme Court cases.