Governor Cuomo Aug. 12 signed a series of bills that expanded protections against workplace sexual harassment, including one eliminating a standard that survivors prove the harassment they faced was “sufficiently severe or pervasive.”
The changes—which take effect in 60 days—make it easier for workers to report abuse and harassment. Survivors must now show that the misconduct they faced rose above a “petty slight or trivial inconvenience.”
Extend Filing Period
The reforms also extend the statute of limitations to file a complaint with the state Division of Human Rights from one year after the most-recent incident to three years. That’s the same amount of time survivors have to file a claim in state court.
A heightened awareness of sexual harassment emerged following reports in October 2017 that movie producer Harvey Weinstein sexually assaulted several women in the entertainment business. Such accusations also touched city and state government. DHR saw a 62-percent increase in workplace harassment complaints filed between 2016 and 2018, while the city Commission of Human Rights also saw an uptick in claims.
“There has been an ongoing, persistent culture of sexual harassment, assault and discrimination in the workplace, and now it is time to act,” Mr. Cuomo said. “Let’s honor the women who have had the courage to come forward and tell their story, even though it was personally difficult. And let’s actually change things.”
The bills also require the state Department of Labor and Division of Human Rights to review sexual harassment policies every four years, beginning in 2022, and prohibit employers who enter into a non-disclosure agreement from including language that prevents employees from filing a harassment complaint.
‘Major Strides Made’
“For too long, our state was held back from making real progress in the fight against sexual harassment,” said Senate Majority Leader Andrea Stewart-Cousins. “Thanks to the new Senate Democratic Majority, major strides were made in combatting this inappropriate behavior and addressing the priorities of the survivors of sexual harassment.”
The Sexual Harassment Working Group, a coalition of former staffers in the State Legislature who say they experienced or reported sexual harassment and abuse while on the job, pushed for the increased protections after state lawmakers passed a series of laws in March 2018 that they believed were “incomplete and rushed,” particularly because the bills were crafted without input from survivors.
The group includes Rita Pasarell and Leah Hebert, former staffers for the late Assemblyman Vito Lopez, who was accused of multiple instances of abuse by several women prior to resigning his post in 2013. It advocated for several changes that were adopted, including the extended statute of limitations.
‘Finally Paying Attention’
“Finally, New York State is paying attention to victims and survivors instead of protecting perpetrators or avoiding responsibility,” the coalition said in a statement.
State Sen. Alessandra Biaggi, who held two lengthy hearings on the issue earlier this year, said that the reforms put power “in the hands of survivors and working people of New York.”
“With the signing of this legislation, employers across all sectors will be held accountable for addressing all forms of sexual harassment and discrimination in the workplace, and survivors will be given the necessary time to report complaints and seek the justice they deserve,” she said.
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