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Another New Sexual Harassment Prevention Law: What Employers Need to Know

By Katherine L. Wood, Esq.

Governor Cuomo is expected to sign another sexual harassment prevention bill into law in the imminent future. Like last year’s newly-enacted law, bill SB 6577 will further amend the New York State Executive Law and is intended to strengthen employee’s protections against sexual harassment in the workplace. However, this bill has significant implications for employers, particularly in the event a discrimination/harassment claim is brought by an employee. Here are some key points that employers should keep on their radar as we wait for bill SB 6577 to become law:

  • The bill not only increases protections relative to sexual harassment, but also expands its protections to all protected classes under New York State Executive Law such as race, sex, and religion.
     
  • The bill expands the definition of employer to all employers in New York State. Previously, only employers with 4 or more employees were considered employers under the New York State Executive Law.
     
  • In the event a harassment or discrimination claim is brought by an employee, the employee’s burden of proof is significantly lower. Under the new law, the employee must only prove that that conduct was more than “petty slights” or “trivial inconveniences” to avoid dismissal of his/her claim. Previously, the conduct must have been “severe or pervasive” to rise to an actionable level.
     
  • Bill SB 6577 explicitly states that if a harassment or discrimination claim is brought, the fact that the employee did not complain about the allegedly unlawful conduct is no longer dispositive. In practice, this means that employers could be held liable for conduct they were completely unaware of prior to the filing of the claim by the employee! In the past, the employee’s failure to complain to the employer had the potential to be dispositive.
     
  • The bill also increases the statute of limitations for sexual harassment claims from one year to three years.
     
  • The bill expands the requirements for sexual harassment training by mandating that at the time of hire and at every annual training, the employer must provide in writing its sexual harassment prevention policy and the materials covered at the training sessions.
     
  • Finally, the bill eliminates mandatory arbitration clauses in employment agreements relating to discrimination and harassment claims and further limits non-disclosure agreements stemming from settlement of discrimination and harassment claims.
     

We will continue to monitor the status of bill SB 6577 and offer further updates to our readers. In the interim, if employers have any questions concerning how the new bill may impact their day-to-day operations, please feel free to contact any member of Hurwitz & Fine’s team of experienced Health Law and Employment Law attorneys, including Lawrence M. Ross and Katherine L. Wood.

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