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State Passes Strengthened Anti-Discrimination Laws In the Workplace

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Gov. Cuomo yesterday (August 12) signed new legislation that strengthens the state’s current anti-discrimination laws in the workplace, eliminating the restriction that harassment needs to be “severe or pervasive” for legal action to be taken and extends the statute of limitations for sexual harassment claims from 1 year to 3 years.

In addition, the law mandates that all company Non-Disclosure Agreements (NDAs) include language that allows employees to file complaints of harassment or discrimination.

“There has been an ongoing, persistent culture of sexual harassment, assault and discrimination in the workplace, and now it is time to act,” Governor Cuomo said. “By ending the absurd legal standard that sexual harassment in the workplace needs to be ‘severe or pervasive’ and making it easier for workplace sexual harassment claims to be brought forward, we are sending a strong message that time is up on sexual harassment in the workplace and setting the standard of equality for women.”

The measures passed yesterday are part of the governor’s 2019 Women’s Justice Agenda.

“We must continue to change our culture and ensure women are protected from sexual assault and harassment,” said Lieutenant Governor Kathy Hochul“These reforms build on New York’s nation-leading efforts to combat sexual harassment and make sure survivors have the tools and support they need to seek justice and hold abusers accountable. This legislation is another step in advancing women’s rights and achieving full equality once and for all.”

To further protect workers and hold abusers accountable, this legislation:

  • Lowers the high bar set for employees to hold employers accountable for sexual harassment by amending under the New York Human Rights Law to make clear that conduct need not be  “severe or pervasive” to constitute actionable conduct;
  • Protects employees’ rights to pursue complaints by mandating that all non-disclosure agreements in employment contracts includelanguage stating that employees may still file a complaint of harassment or discrimination with a state or local agency and testify or participate in a government investigation;
  • Extends the statute of limitations for employment sexual harassment claims filed with the Division of Human Rights from one year to three years;
  • Requires employers to provide their employees with notice about the employer’s sexual harassment prevention policy in English as well as the employee’s primary language;
  • Expands the coverage of the Human Rights Law to all employers in the state;
  • Extends protections against all forms of discrimination in the workplace to all contractors, subcontractors, vendors, consultants, or others providing services; and against all forms of discriminatory harassment to domestic workers;
  • Requires courts to interpret the Human Rights Law liberally regardless of the federal rollback of rights;
  • Prohibits mandatory arbitration to resolve cases of discrimination and harassment in the workplace;
  • Updates the power of the Attorney General to enforce the Human Rights Law; and
  • Requires a study on how best to build on recent sexual harassment prevention laws to combat all types of discrimination in the workplace and a review of sexual harassment policies every four years.

Senator Alessandra Biaggi:

“In 2018 a group of former legislative staffers came forward to demand justice for the years of sexual harassment they endured at the hands of powerful lawmakers and state agencies – today we are taking that power and putting it in the hands of survivors and working people of New York. With the signing of this legislation, employers across all sectors will be held accountable for addressing all forms of sexual harassment and discrimination in the workplace, and survivors will be given the necessary time to report complaints and seek the justice they deserve. It has been such an honor to carry this bill and I am incredibly appreciative of Senate Majority Leader Andrea Stewart-Cousins and Governor Andrew M. Cuomo for their commitment to addressing this issue with open hearts and minds. Today New York stands as a beacon of hope for survivors across the country as we usher a movement into law, and take one step forward towards building a harassment-free New York for all.”

Assembly Member Aravella Simotas:

“Today marks the day that workers in NYS proudly claim their space without fear. Every single person has the right to a workplace free of sexual harassment and violence. It has been a long time coming, and I am proud that the foundation upon which sexual harassment has festered in our workplaces for generations has been demolished. By signing this package of guidelines to strengthen worker protections, we are strengthening New York’s standard of ensuring equal opportunity for all. I thank Governor Cuomo, Senator Biaggi, and my partners in the Legislature for understanding the urgency of improving our workplaces and prioritizing these reforms.”

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