May. 01, 2018

Legislative Update: New Sexual Harassment Laws in New York State

As part of the 2018-2019 New York State Budget, the Legislature adopted new legislation that is designed to combat sexual harassment in the workplace. This legislation was signed into law on April 12, 2018, and applies to both public and private sector employers.  Key changes that we expect to have the greatest impact moving forward include the following:  

  • No mandatory arbitration agreements: Effective July 11, 2018 (ninety (90) days after the legislation became law), employers will no longer be able to include mandatory arbitration clauses in employment contracts that could prohibit an employee from suing based on sexual harassment. 
  • No confidentiality clauses without victim consent: Effective July 11, 2018 (ninety (90) days after the legislation became law), settlement agreements involving sexual harassment complaints will no longer be able to include confidentiality provisions (or any other terms or conditions that would prevent the disclosure of the underlying facts and circumstances of the alleged sexual harassment), unless the complainant requests that the agreement remain confidential. The complainant must be given 21 days to consider whether to include a confidentiality provision.  If the complainant includes the confidentiality provision, the complainant must be given at least 7 days to revoke the agreement before it becomes effective.
  • Model policies and training programs: Effective immediately, the New York State Department of Labor and Division of Human Rights will be developing a model sexual harassment prevention policy and training program for employees.  Effective October 9, 2018 (one hundred and eighty (180) days after the legislation became law), employers must either adopt these models or establish their own policies and programs that equal or exceed the minimum standards developed by the state.
  • Protections for non-employees: Effective immediately, non-employees in the workplace (including independent contractors, subcontractors, vendors, consultants and other persons providing contractual services) will be permitted to file sexual harassment complaints with the Division of Human Rights against the employers for those workplaces (even though they do not have an employment relationship with those employers).
  • New language for state contracts: Effective January 1, 2019, state contracts that require competitive bidding are now required to contain language affirming that the bidding entity (1) has implemented a written policy addressing sexual harassment prevention, and (2) has provided annual sex harassment prevention training to employees. The bidding entity must also provide its written policy prohibiting sexual harassment to the state agency soliciting the bid. 
  • Reimbursement of public funds.  Effective immediately, all public employees who are found personally liable for intentional wrongdoing in a final judgment related to a sexual harassment claim must reimburse the public for the employee’s proportionate share of the total award paid by any public employer to a plaintiff (within 90 days of the employer’s payment of the final judgment).

 As always, we are available for any questions you might have about this new legislation, and are confident that we can work together in the coming weeks and months to make sure that you are up to speed and in compliance with the recent changes.