New York Governor Signs Sexual Harassment Bill Into Law

On August 12, 2019 New York Governor Andrew Cuomo signed into law a bill that greatly expands protections for employees and impacts the New York sexual harassment training prevention law going forward.

Specifically, the law signed on August 12 changes the standard by which claims of workplace harassment are evaluated. Complainants are no longer required to prove that the misconduct at issue was severe and/or pervasive. Instead, the new law changes the statutory definition of harassment to include conduct that rises “above petty slights and inconveniences”.

According to the New York Post, the New York State legislature opined that it felt the need to end the “absurd” (their words) legal standard “that sexual harassment needs to be ‘severe or pervasive’ and making it easier for workplace sexual harassment claims to be brought forward, [the legislature is] sending a strong message that time is up on sexual harassment in the workplace and setting the standard of equality for women.”

Obviously not contemplated by the New York legislature is the significant impact and burden this new law will place on harassment jurisprudence in that state. Indeed, years’ worth of case law analyzing harassment claims under the now repealed standard have been rendered obsolete, and it remains to be seen how judges interpret the new “petty slights and inconveniences” standard (although the new law instructs judges to be liberal in their interpretation of the new standard). It remains to be seen what impact this will have on employers, but the outlook is certainly very employee-friendly.

Lastly and perhaps most significantly to those employers not facing a current charge of harassment, this new law impacts the now-existing obligation for employers to provide annual harassment prevention training to all of their employees. Those employers who have already complied with their 2019 obligation need not worry, but employers who have yet to train should confirm that their training reflects the new definition of harassment in order to be compliant. Syntrio has anticipated this change and has its New York courseware up to date and fully compliant with changes to the law.

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