New York City businesses will need to update their sexual harassment policies in a hurry, as new city and state laws are taking effect over the next 12 months.
The New York City Council passed a package of 11 sexual harassment laws on April 11, 2018 – many of which took effect as soon as Mayor Bill de Blasio signed his name to them on May 9. This followed a series of new laws passed by the New York State Legislature and signed by Governor Andrew Cuomo as part of the 2019 state budget.
At the local level, the City’s sexual harassment laws call for the following:
- An extension of the statute of limitations for filing gender-based harassment claims to the New York City Commission on Human Rights from one to three years
- Amending the New York City Human Rights Law’s ban on gender-based harassment to include all businesses, instead of limiting it to businesses with four or more employees
- Requiring businesses with 15 or more employees to provide sexual harassment training to new hires after 90 days of employment and interactive sexual harassment training to all employees every year. Businesses would have to keep a record of their training sessions for three years, as well as signed acknowledgement forms from the employees (this section of the law goes into effect April 1, 2019)
- Employers must display sexual harassment policy posters in a conspicuous part of their workspace, and they must give new hires a sexual harassment policy information sheet (this section goes into effect 120 days after Mayor de Blasio signed the law)
At the state level, New York City and state employers should be aware of these additional changes:
- Expanded protections against sexual harassment to include non-employees—contractors, subcontractors, vendors, consultants and individual contractors
- Employers are prohibited from providing nondisclosure agreements in sexual harassment settlements unless the complainant wants to maintain confidentiality. Complainants are given 21 days to consider a nondisclosure agreement and a seven-day revocation period after signing (effective July 11, 2018)
- Mandatory arbitration for sexual harassment claims are prohibited, unless arbitration is included in a collective bargaining agreement (effective July 11, 2018)
- Businesses bidding on state contracts must affirm they have written sexual harassment policies and provide annual sexual harassment training (effective January 1, 2019)
Since significant portions of both city and state sexual harassment laws are taking effect immediately, New York City businesses have to work quickly to meet the requirements.
To ensure compliance with the new sexual harassment laws, employers should contact a labor and employment attorney review their policies.
The extension of the city’s statute of limitations on filing sexual harassment claims is an immediate concern for New York City business owners as it expands the rights of employees to file. Now that there is a three-year window, employees who may have missed an opportunity to file a claim with the Commission on Human Rights are eligible to do so. Employers could be at risk of defending themselves from sexual harassment claims from as far back as 2015. Employers should review any pertinent sexual harassment claims from their employees with their attorneys and be prepared to go before the Commission on Human Rights if an employee decides to re-open the claim.
Further, if an employee is accused of sexual harassment by a contractor or vendor, the employer can be included in the claim. Employers must take this into consideration whenever one of their employees is accused of sexual harassment by an independent contractor or vendor, and be proactive in their response. Business owners should discuss this with their attorneys and determine a best business practice for preventing these issues in the first place and for addressing them effectively when they arise.
As always, employers should establish policies that clearly define what sexual harassment is and how it will be handled when there is a claim. Therefore, it is important that all New York City business owners review the new laws passed by the city and the state, and work quickly to comply with the additional regulations.