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New York Strengthens Workplace Harassment Laws

By Douglas Lipsky

On March 16, 2022, New York Governor Kathy Hochul signed three bills into law that will strengthen legal protections for victims of sexual harassment. Despite these enhanced protections, workplace harassment continues to be a persistent problem in both big and small companies, as well as municipal agencies. The best way to protect yourself from harassment is to consult with an experienced sexual harassment lawyer. Let’s take a look at the new anti-harassment legislation. 

The Backdrop 

The state legislature passed a series of bills earlier this year reinforcing New York’s existing sexual harassment laws, which were expanded in 2019 to protect independent contractors, consultants, and other workers from sexual harassment. The new legislative package addresses matters such as workplace retaliation and sets up a confidential hotline for harassment reporting. The governor expressed support for bolstering the state’s resources for victims of harassment and discrimination in the workplace.  

“Everyone has the right to a safe and secure workplace where they are valued and respected,” Gov. Hochul said at a press briefing.

The new laws codify 3 key reforms:

  • Directs the State Division of Human Rights (DHR) to establish a toll-free, confidential hotline for complainants of workplace sexual harassment.
  • Amends the New York State Human Rights Law (NYSHRL) to include releasing personnel records as unlawful retaliation against an employee who brings a claim of harassment or discrimination in the workplace in addition to existing illegal retaliatory actions (firing, demoting, disciplining).
  • Closes a loophole in the NYSHRL by amending the definition of employer to include the state or a municipality. The new law clarifies that a state or local municipality is the direct employer of any individual working in the executive, legislative, and judiciary branches.

Addressing sexual harassment is part of Governor Hochul’s Equity Agenda; she is also challenging the legislature to pass the Equal Rights Amendment this session. Finally, lawmakers are presently considering other legislative measures that would:

  • Ban no-rehire clauses in settlement agreements
  • Extend the statute of limitations under the NYSHRL for filing an administrative charge with the DHR alleging unlawful discriminatory practices from 1 to 3 years 
  • Extend the statute of limitations under the human rights law for bringing an employment discrimination lawsuit from 3 to 6 years

“While there’s more work to be done, I am proud of the steps we are taking to promote safety, dignity, and respect for all New Yorkers,” said Hochul.

The Takeaway

The new laws are another step in making anti-harassment and discrimination laws in the state among the toughest in the nation. It remains to be seen whether additional legislative items will be enacted in the current session. In the meantime, New Yorkers have powerful legal protections against discrimination and harassment in the workplace. By getting in touch with an experienced employment lawyer, you can protect your employment rights and recover just compensation if you have been treated unfairly by your employer.

About the Author
Douglas Lipsky is a co-founding partner of Lipsky Lowe LLP. He has extensive experience in all areas of employment law, including discrimination, sexual harassment, hostile work environment, retaliation, wrongful discharge, breach of contract, unpaid overtime, and unpaid tips. He also represents clients in complex wage and hour claims, including collective actions under the federal Fair Labor Standards Act and class actions under the laws of many different states. If you have questions about this article, contact Douglas today.