New York Dramatically Expands Harassment Protections

Employment and Labor Law Tip of the Month

On August 12, Governor Cuomo signed sweeping new legislation toughening and substantially broadening New York’s sexual harassment protections. Critically, the updated law is no longer limited to “sexual harassment,” but extends protections to all forms of discriminatory harassment against employees and non-employees, based on all protected categories, including, without limitation, age, race, creed, color, national origin, sexual orientation, gender identity, sex, disability, predisposing genetic characteristics, familial status, marital status, or because an individual has opposed any prohibited practices or participated in a proceeding related thereto. Significantly, the law also abandons the previous “severe and pervasive” harassment standard, instead recognizing as actionable harassment that rises above “petty slights or trivial inconveniences.” The law further provides that an employer may be liable for harassment claims even where an employee did not raise the complaint to the employer, and introduces punitive damages as an available category of relief. These changes materially expand the universe of cognizable harassment claims and can be expected to result in an increase in such claims. Employers must promptly update their policies, carefully train their personnel, and refine their complaint-handling procedures, in order to ensure compliance with, and avoid issues under, these newly-enhanced protections.

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