Courtesy of Simotas' office
Assemblywoman Aravella Simotas' revolutionary bill to enact workplace protections for employees was signed into law by Governor Andrew Cuomo.

New workplace sexual harassment protections became law in New York when Governor Andrew Cuomo signed sweeping legislation sponsored by Assemblywoman Aravella Simotas.

The bill eliminates the requirement that harassment be proven “severe or pervasive” to be considered unlawful, and removes parts of the Faragher/Ellerth Law that allows employers to avoid liability for harassment if an employee did not make a formal complaint.

It also allows for punitive damages against private employers to ensure discrimination is not tolerated on any level.

“Today, New York becomes a national leader in the fight against harassment and discrimination in the workplace,” Simotas said. “With the signing of this landmark legislation, New York is tackling the culture of intimidation, discrimination and retaliation in our workforce. Employers across all sectors will now have to answer to their employees and survivors will finally be granted the necessary time to report claims.”

On the reporting end, this bill ends the statute of limitations to report sexual harassment to the Division of Human Rights to three years from the discriminatory act, widening the window for reporting and seeking damages. The bill also extends sexual harassment protections to employees of small businesses of all sizes, whereas protections previously would have only applied to who have four or more employees.

“There has been an ongoing, persistent culture of sexual harassment, assault and discrimination in the workplace, and now it is time to act,” Cuomo said. “By ending the absurd legal standard that sexual harassment in the workplace needs to be ‘severe or pervasive’ and making it easier for workplace sexual harassment claims to be brought forward, we are sending a strong message that time is up on sexual harassment in the workplace and setting the standard of equality.”

After the Senate flipped to Democratic control in January it held dramatic hearings on the issue of sexual harassment for the first time in 27 years. The Senate went on to approve the measures unanimously, 62-0, and it was approved in the Assembly, 128-20.

Simotas added that she was incredibly grateful to the Sexual Harassment Working Group, the New York chapter of the National Employment Lawyer’s Association and all the advocates who rallied and worked to advance the “survivor-centered, trauma-informed” legislation to protect workers throughout the state.

“It’s been a long time coming, and I am proud that the foundation upon which sexual harassment has festered in our workplaces for generations has been demolished,” Simotas said. “By signing this package of guidelines to strengthen worker protections, we are strengthening New York’s standard of ensuring equal opportunity for all.”

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