Following national attention on the #metoo movement, Governor Cuomo has announced plans to overhaul New York’s sexual harassment regulations affecting the workplace. Cuomo’s proposed legislation, which he called a “long overdue reckoning,” would void forced arbitration policies or clauses in employee contracts and require annual reporting for any companies that do business with the state of the number of sexual harassment violations and nondisclosure agreements executed by that company.
The proposed laws would also impose additional restrictions on public sector employees and contractors, including banning confidentiality agreements relating to claims of sexual assault or harassment (unless at the express preference of the victim), and preventing the use of taxpayer dollars to fund individual sexual harassment settlements against public officials.
Other New York lawmakers have put forward proposals aiming to curb sexual harassment in the workplace as well. On the Republican side, Senators Catherine Young and Elaine Phillips proposed bills late last year that, in addition to banning secret settlements, would codify the definition of sexual harassment in state law and expand harassment protections for independent contractors. Not to be outdone, Senate Democrats have unveiled plans to allow small business workers to bring claims against their employers, while also lowering the standard for sexual harassment cases so that a single incident would be considered severe enough to sue for damages.
This flurry of proposed legislation suggests that changes are coming to the state, but the exact contours are still unknown. Much of the proposed laws are light on details, lacking the accompanying legislative language. Despite the unknowns, increased accountability for employers is a sure thing. Therefore, New York employers are advised to take stock of their current harassment policies to ensure compliance with existing laws. A good place to start might be following our firm’s five-step plan to address growing harassment concerns, which can be found here.