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What employers should know about new harassment laws

On behalf of Steven Waldinger

This article looks at what employers need to know about new sexual harassment laws in New York State.

Sexual harassment in the workplace has become a major issue in recent months following allegations against a number of high-profile figures and the resultant #MeToo movement. In response to these allegations and protests, a number of states have adopted tougher sexual harassment laws. New York is no exception and, as the Rochester Democrat & Chronicle reports, the latest state budget bill included a number of measures that are designed to combat sexual harassment. These measures are ones that businesses should know about so that they remain on the right side of the law.

Mandatory arbitration clauses prohibited

Perhaps the biggest change that employers need to know about is that, effective July 11, 2018, no written contracts can contain mandatory arbitration clauses that relate to allegations or claims of sexual harassment. Such mandatory arbitration clauses have been criticized for allegedly denying victims of sexual harassment the ability to pursue their claims in court. As Vox reports, about 60 million Americans are currently subject to a mandatory arbitration clause.

Existing contracts that already include such clauses in New York will still be valid, but the specific clauses that violate the new law will be null and void. However, where applicable state law on mandatory arbitration clauses may be preempted by the Federal Arbitration Act.

Other measures to be aware of

Also effective on July 11, 2018: non-disclosure agreements relating to settlements involving allegations or claims of sexual harassment are only permissible if the complainant asks for one. Furthermore, the complainant’s preference for a non-disclosure agreement must be made in writing. That complainant also has 21 days to consider the terms of agreement and seven days, once the agreement has been executed, to revoke the agreement.

The budget bill also makes it illegal, effective immediately, to sexually harass non-employees in the workplace. For the purpose of this law, non-employees include contractors, subcontractors, consultants, vendors, and similar workers.

Also, effective October 9, 2018, all employers in the state will be required to develop a sexual harassment prevention and training program that meets or exceeds standards set by New York State Department of Labor. The policy must include a standard complaint form and annual training to all employees, among other things.

Helping employers navigate the law

Keeping up with new regulations and laws can be difficult for employers, but doing so is necessary in order to avoid costly disputes and legal problems. That is why businesses should reach out to a business and employment law firm today for help. Whether businesses need to ensure they are up-to-date with the latest regulations or need to resolve a dispute effectively, an experienced legal team can help.