State overhauls sexual harassment law

State senators and assemblymembers held hearings on sexual harassment in the workplace in February and May.  Eagle  photo by Victoria Merlino

State senators and assemblymembers held hearings on sexual harassment in the workplace in February and May. Eagle photo by Victoria Merlino

By Victoria Merlino

Gov. Andrew Cuomo signed new legislation revamping workplace sexual harassment laws on Monday, a move that lawmakers hope will empower more victims to speak up in the age of  #MeToo. 

"Today marks the day that workers in [New York] proudly claim their space without fear, said Queens Assemblymember Aravella Simotas, who sponsored the legislation. “Every single person has the right to a workplace free of sexual harassment and violence.”

The new laws extend the statute of limitations for sexual harassment complaints across the state, prohibit non-disclosure agreements, expand protections to domestic and contract workers and removes the vague “severe or pervasive” standard from discriminatory and retaliatory harassment cases, among other measures to protect and aid those who are sexually harassed on the job. 

The “severe and pervasive” legal standard, which has not been followed by New York City in the past 10 years, held that in order for a work environment to be considered hostile, the harassment must be continuous or extreme. The “severe and pervasive” standard could be difficult to prove, and make court cases difficult to win for some victims, legal experts said

“Today New York stands as a beacon of hope for survivors across the country as we usher a movement into law, and take one step forward towards building a harassment-free New York for all,” said State Sen. Alessandra Biaggi, the bill’s Senate sponsor, said in a statement. 

Biaggi, who represents parts of the Bronx and Westchester, made sexual harassment a prominent piece of her platform during the last leglsative session. The State Senate and Assembly majority held their first joint hearing on sexual harassment in 30 years in February, and then hosted another in May.

“2 months ago, we proudly, tearfully sat on the legislative floors as the bill passed. Today, [Cuomo] made these protections *real* for millions of NY workers. Today we celebrate & thank those who spoke, those who couldn’t— all deserved better. Tomorrow, we plan 2020.” tweeted the Sexual Harassment Working Group, a group of seven former New York State legislative employees who worked to kickstart the conversation around sexual harassment.