New York Passes New Anti-Sexual Harassment Laws

Author: Robert S. Teachout, XpertHR Legal Editor

April 19, 2018

New York employers must comply with several new anti-sexual harassment laws that were included in the state budget signed by Governor Andrew Cuomo on April 12. The provisions range from requiring employers to hold annual training to prevent sexual harassment, and prohibiting the use of nondisclosure agreements in sexual harassment settlements, to eliminating mandatory arbitration clauses for sexual harassment claims and extending the state's human rights law to cover certain non-employees who work under contract. The provisions have various effective dates:

  • Effective immediately -- "Non-employees" who provide services under a contract, such as contractors, subcontractors, vendors and consultants, are protected under the New York State Human Rights Law provisions against sexual harassment. An employer now may be held liable if it knew or should have known that a covered non-employee was sexually harassed at its workplace and did not take appropriate corrective action.
  • Beginning July 9, 2018 -- Employers cannot use nondisclosure clauses in settlements or agreements relating to sexual harassment claims, unless the complainant requests confidentiality. Also, employers are prohibited, "except where inconsistent with federal law," from including mandatory arbitration clauses for claims of workplace sexual harassment in any contract with employees.
  • Effective October 9, 2018 -- All employers are required to have a sexual harassment prevention policy and provide annual anti-harassment training. The policy and training must comport with models that will be developed by the New York State Department of Labor (NYDOL) and Division of Human Rights. Employers will also be required to provide a written copy of the policy to all employees each year.

Employers need to take steps quickly to comply with the new provisions, according to Robert S. Whitman, a partner at Seyfarth Shaw's New York City office. He suggests that employers who use contractors, vendors or consultants consider revising their policies to account for the broader scope of who can file claims under the new law. "Given that this provision went into effect immediately upon passage of the bill, employers should consider making such amendments sooner rather than later," said Whitman.

Employers should similarly consider reviewing and revising their standard settlement agreements, at least as they pertain to employees in New York State, to ensure they comply with the new prohibition of nondisclosure agreements, Whitman said.

In addition, after the New York Department of Labor publishes the model policy and training program, employers will need to ensure that their existing sexual harassment policies, as well as their training for employees, are in compliance with the models. Finally, Whitman said, employers who do not have written sexual harassment policies, or do not provide training, will need to institute both.