NYS Improves Workplace Harassment Laws

The New York State Legislature has significantly revised the state’s work place harassment laws this week. These provisions, pledged to be signed into law soon, focus on anti-harassment and anti-discrimination measures to be taken by all employers with any employees in New York State.

The first significant change is that employers of all sizes, big and small, will be liable under this law, whereas prior to this, only employers with four employees or more in NY were covered. Additionally, these provisions will also protect domestic workers who will be treated like all other employees. Another modification to these laws is that employees who bring claims forward will have a lower burden of proof to show that the discrimination or harassment was “severe or pervasive.” A claimant must now only be able to prove that the alleged harassment or retaliation is more than “petty slights and trivial inconveniences.” It will also be made unnecessary for an employee to have to complain within the company and follow their internal policies prior to filing a claim. Non-employees such as independent contractors, subcontractors, vendors and consultants providing services to a company have also been added and will receive protection against workplace harassment, retaliation and discrimination state laws. All employers will be required to distribute in writing a notice detailing the state’s anti-harassment policy upon hiring and at annual harassment prevention training.

When it comes to the recovery process, claimants will now be able to ask for punitive damages to remedy the harassment under state law. Additionally, the New York Human Rights Law will now award the prevailing party attorney’s fees instead of it being discretionary. If a nondisclosure agreement is signed as a result between both parties ensuring confidentiality can only be the plaintiff’s preference. In other words, the employer cannot force the employee to not discuss the harassment going
forward. Also, employment contracts for hiring employees must now include language that does not prohibit them from reaching out to third parties for assistance with harassment such as law enforcement, agencies like the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission and the Division of Human Rights, or an attorney. Mandatory arbitrations of a discrimination or harassment claim would also be prohibited.

These potential updates to the law are extremely helpful for any employee looking to file a claim for harassment or retaliation of any kind. If you have any questions or concerns about your workplace harassment, do not hesitate to call one of the employment attorneys at Fitapelli & Schaffer, LLP. We offer a free phone consultation at (212) 300-0375 and you can also visit our website for additional information.