New York State Senate Approves Bill To Strengthen Sexual Harassment Law

On March 12, 2018, the New York State Senate approved legislation aimed at strengthening and reforming the state sexual harassment laws. According to Senator Patrick Gallivan, a co-sponsor of the bill, “this legislation empowers victims of sexual harassment to speak out and sends a clear message that such behavior is never acceptable and will not be tolerated in New York.”

If enacted, the bill, which is very similar to Governor Cuomo’s recent proposal, would prevent individuals from engaging in misconduct that creates a hostile work environment in either the public or private sector, and encourage victims to come forward. The Senate’s bill includes the following:

  • Adoption of the definition of “Sexual Harassment” into state law. The bill creates a uniform definition of sexual harassment that is based on federal regulations:  unwelcome sexual advances, requests for sexual favors, and other verbal or physical conduct of a sexual nature when submission to or rejection of such conduct, explicitly or implicitly, affects an individual's employment, unreasonably interferes with an individual's work performance or creates an intimidating, hostile or offensive work environment without regard to actual economic injury to or discharge of the individual. 
  • Prohibiting sexual harassment settlements that include confidentiality agreements or provisions. This would help ensure that those responsible are held accountable and prevent future harassment.
  • Prohibiting mandatory arbitration for sexual harassment complaints.
  • Protections for non-employees in the workplace.
  • Creation of a uniform policy for all branches of state and local government. The state Department of Labor would be required to create a strong model management policy defining and prohibiting sexual harassment. The legislature would be required to designate an independent attorney specializing in employment law to investigate complaints based on sexual harassment. A specialized unit within the state’s Joint Commission on Public Ethics would also be established to receive and investigate complaints. Managers and supervisors would be required to report as soon as they become aware of sexual harassment conduct.   
  • Protection of taxpayer funds from being used for individual sexual harassment settlements.

If ultimately enacted into law, the legislation will significantly impact both public and private employers in New York.  The bill will now be delivered to the Assembly. Should the bill pass at the Assembly, it will move to Governor Cuomo, who will either sign it into law or veto it. We will continue to keep you informed of this bill’s developments.