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What Employers Need to Know About Recent Changes to New York’s Sexual-Harassment Laws

Don’t underestimate the power of a budget. On April 12, 2018, Gov. Andrew Cuomo signed the FY 2019 state budget, which amended and created numerous state laws designed to strengthen New York’s existing sexual-harassment laws and prevent sexual harassment in the workplace. These new laws impose additional obligations on employers in both the public and private sectors. Some of these changes, while well intended, may have little actual impact. Nonetheless, employers must be aware of both new changes that have already taken effect and others that will become operative by the start of next year.

Effective April 12, 2018, all New York employers became liable for the sexual harassment of certain non-employees who provide services, such as contractors, subcontractors, vendors, and consultants. Additionally, New York State and local-government employees can be held personally liable for their proportional share of any final money judgment for their intentional wrongdoing with regard to a sexual-harassment claim.

Other provisions of the new legislation may influence the way New York employers draft employment contracts and settlement agreements. Many employers require employees to sign a mandatory arbitration agreement as a condition of employment. Such a provision requires employees to pursue nearly all legal claims against the employer, with few exceptions, in arbitration rather than in state or federal court. This approach can benefit both parties, and is often preferred as a more efficient and private way to resolve disputes as compared to traditional litigation. But employee advocates argue that arbitration is an oppressive tool used by employers to limit their costs and potential exposure.

Read the rest of this timely article by partner Robert C. Whitaker, Jr. from the Central New York Business Journal.