Employers in New York State, take note: now that 2020 is here, you must update your sexual harassment policies, notices, and training – even if you just did so last year.

New York State laws addressing sexual harassment in the workplace have been evolving since 2018, when the worldwide #MeToo movement prompted lawmakers to make changes. In August 2019, Governor Cuomo signed further reformations which will soon come into effect. In particular, (1) the definition of sexual harassment has been expanded, resulting in more types of behavior qualifying as sexual harassment, and (2) the statute of limitations to file a sexual harassment complaint with the NYS Division of Human Rights has been increased. These amendments will likely create a more employee-friendly ruling climate, and employers should ensure that their policies are updated and that their employees are trained on the changes.

Here, a deeper look:

Sexual harassment definition: Previously, those claiming workplace harassment under New York State law were required to show that the harassment to which they were subjected was “severe or pervasive” to sustain their claim or legal action. The new laws lower the burden of proof by removing the phrase “severe or pervasive” from the legal standard, making “sporadic” sexual harassment sufficient to support a claim. Further, even if the employee fails to report the harassment or follow their employer’s internal policies and procedures, the new laws state that the employee may still be eligible to file for a sexual harassment lawsuit. Given these lowered standards, employers should address all forms of workplace harassment to avoid potential liability. These new laws are effective as of February 8, 2020.

Statute of limitations: As of August 12, 2020, the statute of limitations for filing a sexual harassment complaint with the NYS Division of Human Rights will be extended. Currently, the filing period is one year, and in August it will raise to three years.

These latest expansions prove how seriously New York State is taking the issue of sexual harassment, and all employers should take this opportunity to review and update their training procedures, notices, and policies. If you have any questions or concerns regarding these changes to New York State law, please contact our office.