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New York Significantly Changes Workplace Sexual Harassment Laws


One of the most discussed employment and HR compliance issues over the last several years has been workplace sexual harassment.

In an effort to prevent workplace harassment, many companies have strengthened their policies while numerous states have either drafted new legislation or amended current laws to help protect workers.

In 2018, the State of New York addressed this issue by mandating training programs for employers. However, just a few weeks ago, New York lawmakers took further actions to toughen laws surrounding workplace sexual harassment.

This legislation has been signed by Governor Andrew Cuomo and will take effect in three phases, with some of the most prominent aspects starting in 60 days. Let’s take a closer look at this new law and what it means for employers in New York.


The new law was officially signed by Governor Cuomo on Monday, August 14. It boosts protections for workplace sexual harassment victims and makes it less cumbersome for employees to file successful claims.

The law revises the definition of employer under the New York State Human Rights Law (NYSHRL) to remove references to a minimum number of employees. Now, the state’s Human Rights Law covers all employers in the state, both public and private.

Additionally, the new law removed the requirement that workplace harassment victims need to prove that their mistreatment was “severe or pervasive.” Now, standards are considered to be much lower, and includes conduct that is beyond “petty slights and trivial inconveniences.”

This law will also apply to harassment based on race, religion, sex, and other protected classes, in addition to sexual harassment.

Many employment law experts believe this will lead to an increase (some say a significant increase) in claims filed by employees.


Another important outcome from this new law that New York employers and employees must know is that it has extended the statute of limitations for filing a sexual harassment claim with the NYSHRL from one year to three years.

Employers also cannot have nondisclosure agreements in their employee contracts that would prevent staff from speaking out about workplace sexual harassment cases.

More outcomes of the workplace sexual harassment law include:

  • Banning the use of mandatory arbitration by employers to settle claims
  • Weakening an employer’s ability to defend against sexual harassment claims by saying an employee didn’t file an internal complaint
  • Requiring employers to make written sexual harassment prevention policies in an employee’s primary language
  • Expanding the state Attorney General’s powers to enforce the New York State Human Rights Law

One last outcome of the law is that it will create a study that is aimed at analyzing sexual harassment policies and further increasing prevention.


With the new law being applied to all businesses in the state regardless of size, employers must make sure that workplace harassment prevention policies and trainings are up-to-date and meet all requirements set by the state.

Working with compliance and employment law experts can help smaller employers ensure that they are in compliance with this and all other federal, state, and local laws – which can reduce the chances of potential lawsuits, fines, and penalties.

One area of HR is becoming increasingly more difficult for small employers to properly handle — maintaining compliance with employment laws. Download our eBook, Guide to Employment Law: Topics Employers Must Know to Stay Compliant, to learn more about some of the biggest trends and topics in employment law.

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