Gov. Kathy Hochul signed a package of legislation to address workplace harassment and discrimination into law this week. The legislative package established a hotline for complaints of workforce sexual harassment, made state and public employees subject to the Human Rights Law and prohibited the release of personnel records as a retaliatory action against employees.
“We have to be able to protect women and let them know there is a safe place for them,” Hochul said at a press conference this week in New York City. “No matter where they want to work, that place must be safe for them.”
Albany has long been regarded as a boys’ club where harassment is permitted, creating a hostile work environment for staffers at every level. The bills Hochul signed took at that reality and come after many reports of sexual harassment in the capital through the years.
Lawmakers and advocates are celebrating the new measures, but many anti-sexual harassment measures are still before the state Legislature. This includes several bills that passed the state Senate earlier this month but were not included in the recently signed package, as well as bills that would make sexual harassment a misdemeanor. All of these bills await passage before the scheduled end of the 2022 legislative session on June 2.
Here is a breakdown of what the seven remaining anti-sexual harassment bills would do.
Requiring anti-sexual harassment training for lobbyists
This bill, sponsored by state Sen. John Liu and Assembly Member Catalina Cruz, would require lobbyists to complete annual anti-sexual harassment training courses. There have been instances of sexual harassment by lobbyists working closely with state staff. The legislation seeks to “ensure they uphold the standards expected in NYS government.” The bill hasn’t passed either chamber this session, but its co-sponsors plan to continue pushing for its enactment.
Prohibiting fines for breaches of nondisclosure agreements
This bill, sponsored by Sen. Alessandra Biaggi and Assembly Member Nily Rozic, protects harassment victims against fines after signing an NDA. The bill would prevent sexual harassment survivors from being forced to pay large financial sanctions for breaking an NDA because they’ve decided to share their story with the public years after signing. The bill passed the state Senate early this month and is awaiting passage by the Assembly.
Extending the statute of limitations for sexual harassment
This bill, sponsored by state Sen. Andrew Gounardes and Assembly Member Linda Rosenthal, would extend the statute of limitations to report workplace discrimination from three to six years. “Those who are victims of workplace harassment may not come forward or file complaints for quite some time after the first instance occurs,” reads a legislative memo. The bill passed the state Senate early this month and is currently before the Codes Committee in the Assembly.
Extending the statute of limitations for unlawful discriminatory complaints
This bill, sponsored by state Sen. Brad Hoylman and Assembly Member Nily Rozic, extends the statute of limitations for reporting claims resulting from unlawful discriminatory practices to three years for all claims. This includes discrimination based on gender, sex, marital status or sexual orientation. The current time limit to file a complaint against an employer is one year, unless it's gender-based harassment which is the only claim with a limit of three years. The bill passed the state Senate early this month and awaits passage by the Assembly before it can get signed into law.
Protecting employees’ future job prospects
This bill, sponsored by Gounardes and Assembly Member Catalina Cruz, protects the hiring rights of employees who are victims of sexual harassment. The bill prohibits so-called “no-rehire clauses,” which prevent the victim from seeking a job with the same employer in the future, in settlement contracts. The bill passed the state Senate early this month and is before the Assembly Judiciary Committee.
Making sexual harassment by elected officials a misdemeanor
This bill, sponsored by Assembly Member Rebecca Seawright, would elevate sexual harassment by members of the state Legislature to a Class A misdemeanor. Doing so would make sexual harassment a crime punishable by up to one year in jail rather than a civil matter. This bill awaits passage by both chambers.
Establishing the crime of sexual harassment
This bill, sponsored by state Sen. Alessandra Biaggi and Assembly Member Yuh-Line Niou, would establish specific types of sexual harassment as a Class A misdemeanor for everyone, not just elected officials. It would specify slapping, striking, shoving and kicking another person, without consent, for sexual arousal or gratification as acts of sexual harassment. The legislative memo claims the bill “will provide prosecutors with an important new tool to hold domestic abusers accountable for their conduct.” The bill is awaiting passage by the Codes Committees of both chambers.