Governor Cuomo Announces Sweeping New Workplace Discrimination and Harassment Protections Go Into Effect Today

New Law Eliminates Restriction that Harassment be "Severe or Pervasive" in Order for it to Be Legally Actionable and Prohibits Confidentiality Requirements in Employment Discrimination Cases
Governor Calls on Employers to Review Sexual Harassment Policies to Ensure Compliance with New Law

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October 11, 2019 

Governor Andrew M. Cuomo announced that key components of new legislation greatly expanding the scope of New York's workplace anti-discrimination and sexual harassment protections go into effect today. The new provisions eliminate restriction that harassment be "severe or pervasive" in order for it to be legally actionable and prohibits confidentiality requirements in employment discrimination cases. These measures are central components of the Governor's 2019 Women's Justice Agenda.

"The ongoing culture of sexual harassment in the workplace is unacceptable and has held employees back for far too long," Governor Cuomo said. "This critical measure finally ends the absurd legal standard for victims to prove sexual harassment in the workplace and makes it easier for those who have been subjected to this disgusting behavior to bring claims forward. Now it's time for employers across the state to step up and review their internal policies to ensure their employees are protected from harassment or discrimination and abusers who violate these standards are held accountable."

The provisions that go into effect today, October 11, make clear that harassment - including sexual harassment - of an employee need not be "severe or pervasive" to constitute actionable conduct against an employer. They also expand protections against all forms of workplace discrimination to include domestic workers and all contractors, subcontractors, vendors, consultants and others providing services in the workplace. Additional provisions taking effect today allow individuals and attorneys to seek financial awards in employment discrimination cases; prohibit confidentiality requirements in employment discrimination settlements unless such confidentiality is the employee's preference; and require that all confidentiality agreements be written in plain English and, if applicable, the employee's primary language.

"We must continue to change the culture and ensure women are protected from discrimination and sexual harassment in the workplace and beyond," said Lieutenant Governor Kathy Hochul. "These protections build on New York's nation-leading efforts to combat sexual harassment and make sure survivors have the resources and support they need to seek justice and hold abusers accountable. This is another important step forward in advancing women's rights and achieving full equality once and for all."

Division of Human Rights Commissioner Angela Fernandez said "All workers deserve a work environment free of sexual harassment and discrimination. The elimination of the 'severe or pervasive' standard along with other changes, including the requirement that the Human Rights Law be liberally construed, regardless of any federal rollback of rights, is a tremendous step forward. The Division of Human Rights will use its powers fully to enforce these important measures."

The Governor initially proposed these wide-ranging reforms in his 2019 Women's Justice Agenda, and again in his FY 2020 Executive Budget. When the initiative was not taken up by the legislature, and with just 11 days remaining in the legislative session, the Governor launched the Women's Justice Agenda: The Time Is Now campaign to urge lawmakers to take action before the close of session.

These new measures build on Governor Cuomo's action last year to sign into law the nation's most comprehensive sexual harassment package as part of the FY 2019 budget. That package expanded workplace harassment protections in the State's Human Rights Law to include contractors, subcontractors, vendors, consultants, or others providing services in the workplace; required employers to adopt a sexual harassment prevention policy and training; and mandated that as of January 2019 all State contractors must submit an affirmation that they have a sexual harassment policy and that they provide annual training to all of their employees.

Further information regarding these changes to the New York State Human Rights Law is available at www.dhr.ny.gov/sexualharassment.