On July 19, 2022, Gov. Kathy Hochul announced the launch of a statewide hotline for employees who believe they have been sexually harassed in the workplace. This announcement follows several pieces of legislation1 passed in March 2022, in which sexual harassment protections for employees were expanded. As part of the legislation, the New York State Division of Human Rights was directed to establish a toll-free, confidential hotline for complainants of workplace sexual harassment. Employees can call the hotline and receive advice on their legal rights as applied to their specific circumstances from attorneys, who staff the hotline pro bono. As of July 20, 2022, the hotline is operational from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m., and can be reached at 1-800-HARASS-3 (1-800-427-2773).
On March 16, 2022, Gov. Kathy Hochul signed three bills into law that effectively amend the New York Human Rights Law (HRL) to increase sexual harassment protections for employees in New York. Please see our prior blog post for a more thorough summary of these new laws.
The New York legislature has passed significant legislation that would further expand sexual harassment protections for employees in New York. This suite of legislation is intended to ensure that all public and private employees are treated in a fair manner and have the necessary resources available to seek accountability from their employers. If signed by the governor, the legislation will ban “no-rehire” clauses in settlement agreements, extend the statute of limitations for workplace harassment and discrimination claims, explicitly extend applicability of the New York Human Rights Law (HRL) to public employees, provide protection from unlawful retaliation, create a confidential sexual harassment hotline and enact the Let Survivors Speak Act. Each provision is discussed in turn below.
On Feb. 10, 2022, the U.S. Senate passed H.R. 4445 – the “Ending Forced Arbitration of Sexual Assault and Sexual Harassment Act of 2021,” also known as the “#MeToo Bill.”
The #MeToo Bill will amend the Federal Arbitration Act, and will invalidate mandatory arbitration agreements that preclude an employee from filing a lawsuit in court arising from workplace sexual assault or sexual harassment. The Bill will have a significant impact on employment law, as these arbitration provisions are commonly included in employment contracts. The Bill will also limit the ways in which an employee can pursue their claims, and keep the details of those claims out of the public eye far more than a typical court proceeding.
On March 3, 2021, New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio signed Executive Order No. 64 that requires outside entities that contract with New York City agencies for “human services” to report information related to sexual harassment complaints.
“Human services” is defined as services provided to third parties, including social services such as day care, foster care, home care, homeless assistance, housing and shelter assistance, preventive services, youth services, and senior centers; health or medical services; legal services; employment assistance services, vocational and educational programs; and recreation programs. N.Y.C. Admin. Code § 6-129(c)(21).
On August 12, 2019, Governor Cuomo signed the legislation that was passed by the New York State Assembly and Senate on June 19, 2019, making sweeping changes to the New York Human Rights Law. We previously posted a summary of the significant amendments to the Human Rights Law and the potential impact that these amendments could have on the litigation of discrimination and harassment claims filed with the Division of Human Rights and in court. The legislation does not apply retroactively, so only future claims under the Human Rights Law will be affected.
New York State has mandated that sexual harassment training be conducted for all employees, in an interactive manner, on an annual basis. The deadline for completing the training for the current year is October 9.
On June 19, 2019, the New York State Assembly and Senate passed legislation that makes sweeping changes to the New York Human Rights Law. This legislation will have a significant impact on the litigation of discrimination and harassment claims filed with the Division of Human Rights and in court. It is expected that Governor Cuomo will sign the legislation soon. The legislation does not apply retroactively, so only future claims under the Human Rights Law will be affected.
For those of you old enough to remember (and young enough to search YouTube), when Saturday Night Live was in its early heyday, one of its most popular skits was “Point/Counterpoint” starring Dan Aykroyd and Jane Curtin. During this satire on news commentary, Mr. Aykroyd would start his “counterpoint” with “Jane, you ignorant slut,” a phrase that drew laughs in the 70s, but may not be so well received -- even in jest -- today. And, as we will see from a recent court decision discussed below, when sophomoric name-calling leads to the actual spread of rumors in the workplace, liability for sexual harassment can attach.
On October 9, 2018, the State University of New York (“SUNY”) Board of Trustees adopted a new resolution imposing new policy requirements with regard to consensual or amorous relationships among faculty, staff, and students. The new SUNY policy requirements come in light of the recent New York State sexual harassment prevention policy and training requirements and guidelines. This system-wide policy now requires that all SUNY campuses develop and disseminate a “Sexual and Romantic Relationship Policy” to their respective campus communities on or before March 1, 2019. The new policy requirements apply to all SUNY campuses, including all state-operated campuses, statutory colleges, and community colleges.
On October 1, the New York State Division of Human Rights issued its final model sexual harassment policy and training guidelines to assist employers in complying with the new sexual harassment legislation that will become effective October 9, 2018. One piece of good news for employers is that the Division's final training guidelines no longer require that employers train all employees by January 1, 2019, as the Division initially proposed. Instead, according to the FAQs, employers will have until October 9, 2019 -- a full 12 months from the effective date of the legislation -- to complete the training for all employees. In addition, the Division's final training guidelines no longer require that new employees complete the sexual harassment training within 30 calendar days of starting their job. Instead, the Division's guidelines simply encourage employers to train their new employees "as soon as possible" after beginning employment.
A recent decision from the New York Appellate Division is a clarion call to employers in New York City of the legal risks they face for workplace harassment claims and the need for diligence in their harassment training and prevention.