In October, it will be two years since the #Metoo movement swept the country and led to a cultural reckoning. As a result, Harvey Weinstein now is facing charges sexual assault after multiple allegations, Bill O’Reilly lost his TV show after several sexual harassment complaints and Matt Lauer lost his longtime The Today Show job for inappropriate sexual behavior toward coworkers.
Yet, now, months and months later, lawmakers are strengthening New York’s sexual harassment protection laws, making them some of the toughest in the country. The bills, which Gov. Andrew Cuomo has promised to sign, also protect those working at the Capitol, after a group of former legislative staffers made it known they had experienced or reported sexual harassment in Albany years ago with little action to stop it.
Here are some of the issues the new laws will address:
- Eliminating the “severe or pervasive” standard for proving harassment. Advocates for change noted that this standard allowed judges to dismiss claims of groping or lewd comments because those weren’t hostile enough to qualify as sexual harassment.
- Restricting employer’s ability to avoid liability for their employee’s sexual harassment behavior
- Providing attorney fees and punitive damages in harassment cases
- Expanding the amount of time someone has to report a sexual harassment claim to a state agency
- Ensuring anti-harassment training is provided in multiple languages
Also, another piece of legislation approved in late June extended the statute of limitations for reporting second-degree and third-degree rape.
And last year, New York lawmakers mandated the use of panic buttons for hotel workers to prevent sexual assault and limited the use of nondisclosure agreements (NDAs) in harassment cases. Serial abusers often use these to limit victims’ abilities to report sexual abuse.
For advocates against sexual harassment, these moves are just the beginning. If you feel you have been the victim of sexual harassment at work, don’t hesitate to report it to your human resources department. If that harassment has led to you losing your job, hindered your ability to advance your career or made your workplace a hostile environment, contact an experienced employment law attorney. You want to make sure your rights are protected and prevent further harassment.