New York Expands Workplace Sexual Harassment Protections

New York Expands Workplace Sexual Harassment Protections

In June 2019, the New York legislature passed a first-of-its-kind law that radically expanded protections for individuals who suffer harassment at work.

Prior to the passage of the law, an employee suing for sexual harassment in New York had to demonstrate that the harassment was “severe or pervasive.” The new law eliminates this standard—now virtually any sex-based harassment can form the basis for a claim of discrimination against an employer, as long as the harassment is more than a petty slight or minor inconvenience.

Another aspect of the new law makes it harder for employers to defend against claims of sex-based discrimination. Under federal law and in most other states, an employer can avoid liability for sex-based workplace harassment if the victim failed to make a harassment complaint to the employer. Now, in New York, the employer’s ignorance is no defense. Employers can be held liable for workplace harassment even if they had no knowledge it was occurring. 

The new law also contained a few other changes, including:

  • a three-year statute of limitations for reporting sexual harassment
  • banning mandatory arbitration for all types of discrimination complaints, instead of just those based on sex , and
  • barring employers from including non-disclosure agreements in settlements based on any type of discrimination claim, unless the plaintiff requests it.

Whether other states follow New York’s lead remains to be seen, but employers in New York should consult with their attorneys and human resource professionals to determine how the new law impacts the employer’s sexual harassment training programs, employee handbook, and other policies.  

Read the full text of the law.

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