By Alejandra O’Connell-Domenech
As soon as the next legislative session begins in January, state Assemblywoman Aravella Simotas will fight for survivors of sexual harassment.
The six new bills that Simotas plans on introducing are supplementary help to a series of sexual harassment measures approved in the 2018-2019 state budget in April. Senate-elect Alessandra Biaggi has agreed to sponser the bills in the Senate.
“Countless high profile cases of misconduct and the resulting #MeToo movement have put a spotlight on the pervasive and persistent problem of sexual harassment,” said Simotas, who has taken interest in protecting victims from non-disclosure agreements and short statue of limitations.
The first bill would require that anyone entering a confidentiality agreement first be given a written waiver explaining the full consequences of the agreement and the rights they would be surrendering. The law would also make a confidentiality agreement void if it stopped anyone from filing an official complaint, cooperating with an investigation or filing for unemployment insurance or other public benefits.
The second bill would require all employers to tell their employees that just because they have signed an employment contract with non-disclosure or non-disparagement provisions, they can still speak to law enforcement, the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, the state Division of Human Rights or a local commission on human rights.
“This legislation would stop the misuse of non-disclosure agreements as a weapon to silence whistleblowers and targets of sexual harassment or other workplace wrongdoing,” Simotas said.
The third bill would extend the time to file a sexual harassment or discrimination complaint with the NYS Human Rights Division from one year to three years. It would also give state and legislative employees up to 6 months to file a notice of intention to sue for unlawful discrimination in the Court of Claims, an extension from the short limitation of 90 days in some cases.
The fourth bill mandates that all state employees complete annual bystander intervention training which has been taught on college campus across the nation to intervene and prevent sexual harassment or attacks. The fifth bill requires that all settlement agreements related to discrimination, sexual harassment or sexual assault be disclosed to the New York State Attorney General’s office.
The sixth bill would mandate that a victim of sexual harassment is entitled to extra compensation if they agreeing to a settlement with a confidentiality clause.
“These necessary bills will move us one step closer towards a #HarassmentFreeAlbany,” said The Sexual Harassment Working Group said in a statement. The Sexual Harassment Working Group consists of seven former New York State Legislature staffers, all of whom experienced, witnessed, or reported sexual harassment while working for the state. The group helped inspire Simotas to push for new legislation.
“New York will only have the strongest laws in the nation when survivors and stakeholders share their expertise and institutions have the courage to listen and change. It’s #TimesUp on using survivors as props while shutting us out of the process.”