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Recent Amendments to the New York State Human Rights Law Afford Greater Protection from Sexual Harassment and Discrimination

William Phillips

Often, when people are subjected to discrimination or sexual harassment at work, they are fearful of maintaining their jobs and uncertain about which steps to take to prevent further adverse acts. Fortunately, New York employees are protected from harassment and discrimination under state and federal laws. While the New York City Human Rights Law (NYCHRL) provides comprehensive protection, it only applies to individuals who work in New York City. Recent amendments and proposed changes to the New York State Human Rights Law (NYSHRL), however, greatly expand the protections provided to employees and other workers throughout the state, making the NYSHRL more akin to the NYCHRL. If you have been mistreated at work in New York State, it is critical to consult a knowledgeable New York employment attorney to discuss your potential claims. At Phillips & Associates, we are devoted to assisting employees harmed by employment discrimination and harassment with asserting their legal rights.

Recent Amendments to the New York State Human Rights Law

In 2018, several amendments were made to the NYSHRL that both expanded the liability of employers and made it easier for individuals to pursue discrimination claims. Following the changes, employers are expressly prohibited from including mandatory arbitration clauses in employment contracts that state that an arbitrator’s findings or determinations in a sexual harassment claim are final. Additionally, any settlement agreement resolving a sexual harassment claim cannot contain a confidentiality provision, unless the plaintiff prefers to have the terms of the agreement remain confidential and has indicated his or her preference in writing. The plaintiff must be offered 21 days to consider the terms of the agreement and must be offered seven days after the execution of the agreement to revoke the agreement.

Notably, the recent amendments also prohibit sexual harassment in the workplace of individuals other than employees. Specifically, subcontractors, consultants, and vendors, or anyone else providing services under the terms of a contract, are protected from harassment. In other words, an employer can now be held liable for sexual harassment of these individuals if the employer knew or should have known of the harassment but failed to take corrective action. The amendments also require employers to conduct mandatory sexual harassment prevention programs annually and disburse written anti-harassment policies. 

Proposed Amendments to the New York State Human Rights Law

In addition to the changes that were recently made to the NYSHRL, numerous proposed amendments have been passed by the State Senate and Assembly and are expected to be signed into law. Notably, under the proposed amendments, the NYSHRL will apply to every New York State employer regardless of its size.  Furthermore, the amendment explicitly includes harassment as a form of discrimination and lowers the standard of proof in harassment claims. Plaintiffs would no longer need to prove that the harassment was “severe or pervasive” but would merely need to prove that they were subjected to “inferior terms, conditions, or privileges of employment” due to their membership in a protected class.

The proposed amendments would also eliminate an affirmative defense afforded to employers by the courts. Currently, an employer can avoid liability by showing that it attempted to correct the harassing conduct, but the employee unreasonably failed to take advantage of preventative and corrective opportunities. Under the new law, however, an employer can avoid liability only if it can prove that the harassment did not rise above the level of what a reasonable person would consider a trivial inconvenience. Lastly, the amendments would allow specified non-employees to pursue claims for any type of discrimination, rather than just sexual harassment. They would prohibit confidentiality provisions in settlement agreements, including those that do not arise out of a sexual harassment claim.

Consult a Knowledgeable New York Attorney to Understand Your Rights

The protections against workplace discrimination and sexual harassment provided by the New York State Human Rights Law continue to expand, making it one of the most comprehensive human rights laws in the country. At Phillips & Associates, our proficient employment litigation attorneys are well versed in what it takes to prove that an employee is owed compensation under this law, and we will aggressively pursue the full amount of damages that you are owed. You can contact us at (833) 529-3476 or through our online form to set up a meeting to discuss your potential claims. We represent plaintiffs in sexual harassment and employment discrimination litigation in New York City and in Westchester, Nassau, and Suffolk Counties.

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