New York State and City Strengthen Anti-Harassment Laws: A Timeline for Employer Compliance

In the midst of the #MeToo movement, New York State recently enacted legislation imposing a number of new obligations on employers regarding sexual harassment in the workplace. In a similar vein, the New York City Council recently passed legislation aiming to combat sexual harassment in the workplace. Mayor de Blasio will likely sign that legislation in the near future. Each law provides various dates when specific provisions go into effect. It is imperative that employers in New York and New York City are aware of these new obligations and to review their applicable policies and procedures and take appropriate steps to ensure compliance with these new laws.

New York State:

The New York State budget bill for 2019, which Governor Cuomo signed on April 12, 2018, requires employers to take a series of steps to address and prevent sexual harassment. As set forth below, the effective dates of these new obligations vary.

Effective immediately:

  • Employers may not permit sexual harassment of non-employees in the workplace, such as independent contractors or vendors.

Effective July 11, 2018:

  • Employers may not require employees to sign contracts that mandate arbitration for sexual harassment claims, unless such a prohibition is inconsistent with federal law. This law even declares provisions requiring arbitration of sexual harassment claims in existing contracts as null and void. However, arbitration provisions in collective bargaining agreements are exempted.
  • Employers may not include a nondisclosure clause in sexual harassment claim settlements. However, if the complainant prefers such a clause, he or she must be provided 21 days to consider the nondisclosure clause and then 7 days to revoke the agreement.

Effective October 9, 2018:

  • Employers must adopt a sexual harassment prevention policy that meets or exceeds the minimum standards of the state’s model policy which will be published by the Department of Labor. The policy must, among other things, prohibit sexual harassment, provide examples of sexual harassment, include a standard complaint form, and provide a procedure for complaining about sexual harassment.
  • Employers must conduct annual, interactive sexual harassment prevention training that meets or exceeds the minimum standards of the state’s model training program, to be created by the Department of Labor.

Effective January 1, 2019:

  • Employers bidding for state contracts must include in their bid a statement certifying that the employer implements a written policy addressing sexual harassment prevention in the workplace and provides annual sexual harassment prevention training to its employees.

New York City:

On April 11, 2018, the New York City Council passed the Stop Sexual Harassment in NYC Act, which strengthens the City’s anti-sexual harassment laws. This legislation is awaiting Mayor de Blasio’s signature. The Act amends provisions of the New York City Human Rights Law (NYCHRL) and imposes various obligations on both private employers and city agencies. The effective dates of these various provisions are dependent upon the date that the mayor signs the Act. Private employers should take note of the following:

Effective immediately upon the mayor’s signing the Act:

  • The NYCHRL’s statute of limitations for filing a sexual harassment complaint with the New York City Commission on Human Rights (CCHR) is extended from 1 to three years, while the statute of limitations for filing other NYCHRL complaints remains 1 year.
  • Although the NYCHRL’s prohibition against unlawful discriminatory practices generally applies to employers with 4 or more employees, the Act extends the prohibition against sexual harassment to all employers, including those with fewer than 4 employees.

Effective 60 days after the Act becomes law:

  • Contractors and subcontractors that apply for City contracts must include in their employment report to the City their employment practices, policies, and procedures regarding their efforts to prevent and address sexual harassment.

Effective 120 days after the Act becomes law:

  • Employers must display an anti-sexual harassment rights and responsibilities poster, to be designed by the CCHR. The poster will explain, among other things, a description of sexual harassment, examples of sexual harassment, and federal, state, and city complaint processes available to employees.
  • Employers must distribute to employees at the time of hire an information sheet on sexual harassment, which will be developed by the CCHR.

Effective April 1, 2019:

  • Employers with 15 or more employees must conduct annual anti-sexual harassment interactive training, which must include, among other things, an explanation that sexual harassment is a form of unlawful discrimination, examples of sexual harassment, the employer’s internal complaint process for reporting sexual harassment claims, and federal, state, and city complaint processes for reporting sexual harassment claims. New employees must be trained after 90 days of hire.

In light of these new laws, New York State and New York City employers must review their anti-harassment policies and procedures and update as appropriate. New York employers also need to ensure that their employees participate in interactive sexual harassment training in accordance with these new dictates.

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