In August, New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo signed new workplace harassment protections into law, including updated language described as "sweeping" in a report by the Times Union newspaper.
So what does the new law actually do?
No more 'severe or pervasive' requirement
One of the biggest changes to state law is the elimination of the standard that harassment has to be "severe or pervasive" in order for a victim to be able to take legal action under the New York Human Rights Law. The governor called that requirement an "absurd legal standard."
The new language makes clear that harassment cases no longer need to meet the "severe or pervasive" threshold.
Businesses, however, still have available defenses. Under the new law, for instance, a company can argue that the alleged harassment did not go beyond what a "reasonable victim of discrimination" would consider to be "petty slights or trivial inconveniences."Other changes to workplace harassment laws
The governor's signature ushers in some additional changes to New York law, including:
- Mandating that nondisclosure agreements in employment contracts still allow a worker to file a harassment or discrimination complaint
- Extending the statute of limitations on employment sexual harassment claims to three years (up from one year)
- Barring mandatory arbitration in workplace harassment and discrimination claims
- Requiring businesses to notify workers of their sexual harassment prevention policy, in English as well as the employee's primary language
- Extending discrimination protections to contractors, subcontractors, vendors, consultants and other workers providing services
One expert told the Times Union they expect the number of harassment complaints to increase under the new law. Whether that comes true remains to be seen. Victims of workplace harassment should know, however, the new rules offer them additional flexibility, as well as more time to file a complaint and pursue justice.
We wil discuss individual changes under the law in more detail in future posts.