NEW YORK – A major bill sponsored by Assemblymember Aravella Simotas (D-36) passed both the New York State Assembly and Senate extending the rights of employees against sexual harassment and discrimination in the workplace. These new protections take a comprehensive approach to reducing sexual harassment, focusing on the rights of the employee and the responsibilities of the employer.
“The legislation we passed is a sea change in our employment discrimination laws. These comprehensive reforms will empower workers and make it easier to hold bad actors accountable,” Assemblymember Simotas said. “With the passage of this bill, New York is taking meaningful steps forward in preventing workplace harassment and transforming the culture that enables abusers to thrive. I am incredibly grateful to the Sexual Harassment Working Group, the New York chapter of the National Employment Lawyer’s Association, and all the advocates who gave us their invaluable insights and worked tirelessly to advance this survivor-centered, trauma-informed legislation to protect workers throughout the state.”
The legislation expands protections for employees who want to report wrongdoing by their employers. The bill eliminates the requirement that harassment be proven “severe or pervasive” to be considered unlawful, and removes parts of the Faragher/Ellerth law that allows employers to avoid liability for harassment if an employee did not make a formal complaint. It also allows for punitive damages against private employers to ensure harassment is taken seriously and not considered just a nuisance or a cost of doing business. Overall, the measure would help shift the balance of power in harassment and discrimination proceedings away from bad employers and level the playing field for employees who are often trampled by large corporations or powerful supervisors under our current policies.
On the reporting end, the bill extends the statute of limitations to report sexual harassment to the Division of Human Rights to three years from the discriminatory act, widening the window for reporting and seeking damages. The bill also extends sexual harassment protections to employees of small businesses of all sizes, whereas protections previously would have only applied to employers who have four or more employees. Additionally, the bill prohibits non-disclosure agreements that prevent employees from initiating or participating in an investigation conducted by a federal, state, or local agency, sharing information necessary to receive unemployment or other public benefits, or speaking with an attorney.
“No one should be forced to work in a toxic environment or subjected to any form of harassment as the cost of earning a living,” said Assemblymember Simotas. “We must send a clear message to New York’s workforce that it is our responsibility to protect workers, not institutions that enable harassers. With this legislation, we will create stronger safeguards against harassment and eliminate barriers to justice so that employees who have been harmed can find relief and we can move towards eradicating the root causes of these abuses of power.”