New York state has enacted sweeping new workplace harassment protections that strengthens anti-discrimination laws to ensure employees can seek justice and perpetrators will be held accountable.
It eliminates the restriction that harassment be “severe or pervasive” in order to be legally actionable; mandating that all non-disclosure agreements allow employees to file a complaint of harassment or discrimination. It also extends the statute of limitations for employment sexual harassment claims filed from one year to three years.
“There has been an ongoing, persistent culture of sexual harassment, assault and discrimination in the workplace, and now it is time to act,” Gov. Andrew 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.”
“We must continue to change our culture and ensure women are protected from sexual assault and harassment,” said Lt. Gov. 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 include language 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.
State Sen. Alessandra Biaggi said, “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.”
The governor first proposed these sweeping reforms as part of the 2019 Women’s Justice Agenda. He proposed it again in the FY 2020 Executive Budget. The initiative was not adopted by the legislature, and with 11 days remaining in the legislative session, the governor launched the Women’s Justice Agenda: The Time Is Now campaign urging the legislature to end the requirement that harassment be severe or pervasive, as well as take other actions before the end of session.