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New NY state law to combat workplace sexual harassment

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Legislation expanding worker protections against sexual harassment and other unlawful or discriminatory practices was signed into law today by Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo. The new law amends Section 292 of the state’s Executive Law.

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It removes a loophole in which employers with fewer than four employees were not covered by some requirements. It expands the ability for employees to initiate action against employers for sexual harassment by removing a requirement for sexual harassment to be “severe or pervasive” in order for it to be actionable conduct.

Among the other changes made to existing law are:

  • Mandating that all nondisclosure agreements in employment contracts make it clear that employees can still file harassment or discrimination complaints with state and local agencies and participate in government investigations;
  • Extending the statute of limitations for filing sexual harassment claims with the state’s Division of Human Rights from one year to three years;
  • Extending protections against all forms of discrimination in the workplace to contractors, subcontractors, vendors, consultants or anyone else providing services;
  • Prohibiting mandatory arbitration in workplace discrimination and harassment cases;
  • Requiring employers to notify employees about their sexual harassment prevention policies in an employee’s primary language as well as English.

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 new law also has provisions that might help it get around any efforts at the federal level by the Trump Administration to undercut workers’ rights at least with respect to harassment claims. It calls for the law to be interpreted liberally “regardless of whether federal civil rights laws, including those laws with provisions worded comparably to the provision of this article, have been so construed. Exceptions to and exemptions from the provisions of this article shall be construed narrowly in order to maximize deterrence of discriminatory conduct.”

The law requires the state commissioners of labor and human rights to conduct a new study on combating harassment and discrimination in the workplace and, beginning in 2022, review sexual harassment policies every four years.

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