Cuomo to sign tough new sexual harassment laws
Monday, June 24, 2019

Cuomo to sign tough new sexual harassment laws

By WK Editorial Staff

Among other provisions, the legislation eliminates the state’s "severe or pervasive" standard for proving harassment.

On Wednesday, lawmakers passed sweeping anti-harassment legislation that supporters said would make New York’s laws among the most robust in the nation.

The legislation, A08421, eliminates the state’s "severe or pervasive" standard for proving harassment, which advocates said had allowed judges to dismiss claims of inappropriate comments or even groping as insufficiently hostile.

The bills also restrict employers’ ability to avoid liability for the behavior of their employees; provide for attorney fees and punitive damages in all employment discrimination cases; expand from one to three years the time frame to file complaints about workplace harassment with a state agency; and ensure that anti-harassment training is provided in multiple languages.

The legislation would provide a wide range of other protections and preventative measures, according to supporters. The bill would:

  • Extend protections for non-employees in the workplace to all protected classes;
  • Provide that the Human Rights Law is to be construed liberally for remedial purposes, regardless of how federal laws have been construed;
  • Prohibit mandatory arbitration clauses for discrimination claims;
  • Prohibit non-disclosure agreements in any settlement for a claim of discrimination, unless it's the complainant's preference;
  • Provide that any term or condition in a non-disclosure agreement is void if it prohibits the complainant from initiating or participating in an agency investigation or disclosing facts necessary to receive public benefits;
  • Require that employees be notified that non-disclosure agreements in employment contracts cannot prevent them from talking to the police, EEOC, the State Division of Human Rights or a similar local entity, or a lawyer;
  • Extend the authority of the Attorney General to prosecute certain civil and criminal cases of discrimination against all protected classes;
  • Require the Department of Labor and the Division of Human Rights to evaluate the impact of the model sexual harassment prevention policy every four years and update the policy as needed;
  • Require any term or condition in a non-disclosure agreement be provided in writing to all parties, in plain English and the primary language of the complainant;
  • Require the commissioner of the Labor Department to prepare templates of the model policy in languages other than English;
  • Require every employer to provide employees with their sexual harassment policy in English or their primary language when they are hired and during training.

The bills had never been introduced before last year. They would apply to all employers in the state, not only to government employees.

A separate bill approved on June 19 would also extend the statute of limitations for second- and third-degree rape. The previous statute of limitations for second-degree rape was five years, among the shortest in the country; advocates with the Time’s Up Legal Defense Fund had noted that some of the disgraced movie producer Harvey Weinstein’s alleged victims could not press charges against him because too much time had elapsed.

Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo has promised to sign the bills. "We will make it easier for claims to be brought forward and send a strong message that when it comes to sexual harassment in the workplace, time is up," he said in a statement on Wednesday.

The changes build on a slate of laws that Cuomo signed last year amid the peak of the #MeToo movement that banned most nondisclosure agreements and mandatory arbitration for harassment complaints, and required government employees found responsible for harassment to refund any taxpayer-financed payouts.

Before last year’s elections, the advocates pushed Democratic candidates to pledge support for public hearings, and when many of the candidates won, they pressed them to fulfill their promise.

The legislature held two hearings on sexual harassment this year—the first since 1992. Lawmakers cited those hearings as inspiration for the final bills.

The proposals passed 109 to 19 in the assembly. One Republican member, Andy Goodell, worried that the rules could burden small businesses, which he said could face financial hardship from legal fees related to harassment claims even if owners were found blameless.

In the Senate the bills passed unanimously.

News: Procedure StateLegislation SexualHarassment SexDiscrimination

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