Albany Personal Injury Law Firm on NY State Sexual Harassment Hearing
Thanks to the persistence of seven women known as the Sexual Harassment Working Group, on February 13, 2019, the New York State Legislature held its first sexual-harassment hearing in 27 years. New leadership in state government, as well as three newly elected young female senators who ousted men accused of harassment or of protecting others who harassed, also helped pave the way for the hearings, in which former employees of the Legislature gave emotional testimony about sexual assault and rampant harassment in state government, and how it permanently changed their lives.
Previous 2018 Reform to NYS Sexual Harassment Law
New reforms to the state’s sexual-harassment law took effect on October 9, 2018; Governor Andrew Cuomo has boasted that New York’s anti-harassment policies are now the toughest in the nation. But victims’ advocates say the changes don’t go far enough, and note that they were written in private sessions with Cuomo and three male lawmakers, one of whom faced accusations of forcibly kissing a staffer outside an Albany bar.
The new reforms compel all New York state employers to adopt written policies on sexual-harassment prevention, and institute annual anti-harassment training for employees; the provisions of the law now extend to independent contractors, part-time and seasonal workers, and some others doing business with the employer (but not third-party contractors). Also, employers can no longer use employment contracts with clauses that could prohibit an employee from suing because of sexual harassment. And in cases with private settlements, nondisclosure agreements can be used only at the victim’s request, not at the request of the person who committed the sexual harassment. More information on combating sexual harassment in the workplace is available on the state’s website.
NYS Minimum Standards for Sexual Harassment Policy
Employers must either adopt the state’s new sexual-harassment guidelines and complaint form, or implement their own policy and complaint form that equals or exceeds the minimum standards provided under the statute. As outlined in the minimum standards provided by the state, the policy must:
- prohibit sexual harassment consistent with guidance issued by the Department of Labor in consultation with the Division of Human Rights;
- provide examples of prohibited conduct that would constitute unlawful sexual harassment;
- include information concerning the federal and state statutory provisions concerning sexual harassment, remedies available to victims of sexual harassment, and a statement that there may be applicable local laws;
- include a complaint form;
- include a procedure for the timely and confidential investigation of complaints that ensures due process for all parties;
- inform employees of their rights of redress and all available forums for adjudicating sexual harassment complaints administratively and judicially;
- clearly state that sexual harassment is considered a form of employee misconduct and that sanctions will be enforced against individuals engaging in sexual harassment and against supervisory and managerial personnel who knowingly allow such behavior to continue; and
- clearly state that retaliation against individuals who complain of sexual harassment or who testify or assist in any investigation or proceeding involving sexual harassment is unlawful.
Despite Cuomo’s insistence that the state’s sexual-harassment laws are now the toughest in the country, he has indicated that he is open to even more reforms.
Dreyer Boyajian LaMarche Safranko is headquartered in Albany, New York, and represents clients in sexual harassment and abuse cases in state and federal courts throughout New York state. Call us at (518) 463-7784 or contact us for a no-obligation consultation.