On Monday, August 12, 2019, Governor Andrew Cuomo signed into law sweeping new workplace-harassment protections. The bill, approved by the State Legislature in June 2019, comes just months after the State’s enactment of a statute that mandates annual sexual harassment training for all employers in the State. In response to what the Governor described as “an ongoing, persistent culture of sexual harassment, assault and discrimination in the workplace,” the new law is aimed at affording greater protections to victims of sexual harassment in the workplace. As a reminder, the deadline by which all employers must provide interactive sexual harassment training is October 2019. (The deadline by which employers were to conform their anti-harassment policies and postings with statutory requirements was October 2018.) Please contact your Garfunkel Wild attorney or the Employment Law Group to schedule your training session if you have not done so already.
This new law lowers the standard for pursuing and proving sexual harassment by eliminating the need for sexual harassment victims to establish that the complained of conduct was “severe and pervasive,” meaning “an environment that a reasonable person would find hostile or abusive.” The new law also eliminates an employer’s affirmative defense that a complaining employee failed to take advantage of any preventative or corrective opportunities provided by the employer. This change will apply to all forms of complained of discrimination.
Other noteworthy components of this new law affecting sexual harassment cases include:
- A prohibition against mandatory arbitration of disputes.
- A severe restriction on the use of non-disclosure agreements.
- Mandatory attorney’s fees to be awarded to the prevailing party.
- Extension of the statute of limitations from one year to three years to file a charge of sexual harassment with the New York State Division of Human Rights.
- Sexual harassment notices and policies are required in English and the employee’s primary language.
- Expanded coverage of the NYSHRL to all employers, regardless of size.
- Potential for individual liability under the New York State Human Rights Law.
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