Sexual Harassment Measures to Be Proposed by NY Governor

New York Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo (D) will propose a number of measures in his State of the State speech Jan. 3 to combat sexual harassment in the public and private sectors.

Cuomo will propose legislation this year to void forced arbitration policies that prevent sexual harassment cases from being brought in courts, the governor’s office said in a statement Jan. 2. He will also propose a bill to require that companies that do business with the state disclose the number of sexual harassment adjudications and nondisclosure agreements they have executed each year.

Another measure would prevent public funds from being used to settle sexual harassment claims against elected officials and public employees.

The issue of combating sexual harassment is expected to be a top priority in the 2018 Legislature, with several bills already introduced. Cuomo’s announcement was followed minutes later by one from Senate Minority Leader Andrea Stewart-Cousins (D), who said six bills addressing sexual harassment were introduced in the state Senate.

‘Seize the Moment’

“Our challenge in government is to turn society’s revulsion into reform, and we in New York must seize the moment and lead the way,” Cuomo said in a Jan. 2 statement. “There must be zero tolerance for sexual harassment in any workplace, and we can and will end the secrecy and coercive practices that have enabled harassment for far too long.”

Companies support measures to combat sexual harassment and already have policies in place to do so, Zack Hutchins, a spokesman for the Business Council of New York State, told Bloomberg Law. The council is always concerned about additional state mandates and would take a close look at the governor’s reporting and compliance requirements when they are formally drafted, he said.

Cuomo said he will propose a uniform code of sexual harassment policies for all state and local government agencies in New York. The policy will include a whistleblower protection process to prevent retaliation.

Confidentiality agreements involving sexual harassment claims would be barred for state and local governments, unless approved by the victim.

Senate Bills

The Senate bills announced by Stewart-Cousins include a measure (S. 7192) guaranteeing job security and preventing retaliation against employees who file sexual harassment complaints with the State Division of Human Rights. Another bill (S. 7193) would codify sexual harassment as an unlawful discriminatory practice in state law and require the state Department of Labor to draft a model sexual harassment policy.

Other bills would prohibit confidentiality agreements and mandatory arbitration in cases of sexual harassment (S. 6382); prohibit taxpayer funds from being used to settle sexual harassment claims against public officials (S. 7196); establish new timeframes and policies for sexual harassment cases in state government (S. 7195); and expressly prohibit sexual harassment in the state Public Officers Law (S. 6975).

The bills were applauded by the New York State AFL-CIO, women’s rights groups, and the National Employment Lawyers Association.