Governor Andrew M. Cuomo yesterday signed legislation (S.6577/A.8421) to enact sweeping new workplace harassment protections. The following is from the Senate Bill: "PURPOSE OR GENERAL IDEA OF BILL: This bill increases protections to employees of all protected classes
who have been subject to discriminatory harassment in the workplace. SUMMARY OF SPECIFIC PROVISIONS: Section 1: provides that the Human Rights Law covers all employers in the state, including the state and all political subdivisions thereof Section 1-a: This section further defines "private employer" Section 2: Extends protections against all forms of discriminatory harassment based on all protected categories; eliminates the "severe or pervasive" standard; combats the Faragher/Ellerth defense Section 3: Expands protections to domestic workers Section 4: Expands protections to independent contractors Section 5: Allows punitive damages and attorney's fees in employment discrimination cases Section 6: Expands the construction clause to require courts to inter- pret Human Rights Law liberally Section 7: Prohibits non-disclosure agreements from prohibiting the disclosure of the underlying facts and circumstances to the claim or action unless the condition of confidentiality is in the plaintiff's preference in all discrimination cases Section 8: Prohibits mandatory arbitration to resolve cases of sexual harassment Section 9: Expands the prohibition on non-disclosure agreements regard- ing discriminatory harassment Section 10: Expands the powers of the Attorney General to enforce the Human Rights Law Section 11: Requires employers to provide employees with notice in English and in the employee's primary language containing the employer's sexual harassment prevention policy Section 12: Requires a study on expanding harassment policies to all types of discrimination Section 13: Expands the statute of limitations for Human Rights complaints Section 14: Requires quadrennial review of sexual harassment policies Section 15: Established a severability clause Section 16: Sets forth the effective date JUSTIFICATION: Despite our reputation as a leader in progressive reform, New York State is behind the rest of the country when it comes to its statutes regard- ing discrimination in the workplace, including, but not limited to, sexual harassment. Working individuals in the State who have experienced egregious and debilitating forms of harassment must overcome significant and unwar- ranted legal barriers before they can seek justice for the wrongdoing they have been subjected to. One such example is the requirement that an employee alleging harassment must prove the harassment was severe or pervasive to prevail on a claim. The legal disparities surrounding discrimination in the workplace addressed in this particular bill give workers in the State the impression that the law, as it is currently written, exists to protect institutions, not it's millions of vulnerable employees. In conjunction with the newly enacted legislation coming out of the Women's Equality Agenda budget items introduced in 2018, the passage and signage of this bill will bring the State up to speed with widely accepted reforms. Vital to this bill are the protections against all forms of discriminatory harassment, not just sexual harassment. Addi- tional key aspects of the legislation include, but are not limited to: the elimination of the aforementioned "severe or pervasive" standard, which currently allows for significant levels of discriminatory harass- ment to be endured before an individual's case would be deemed actiona- ble; it combats the Faragher/Ellerth defense, which enables an employer to avoid liability; it extends the Human Rights Law to cover all employ- ers of the state; it allows for punitive damages and attorney's fees in employment discrimination cases, and prohibits non-disclosure agreements from preventing the claimant's disclosure of the underlying facts and circumstances surrounding their discrimination case to certain parties. It is time for New York State law to recognize and serve all victims of discrimination, not just protect the powerful."