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By Craig Braack

Governor Hochul Signs Package of Legislation to Address Workplace Harassment and Discrimination

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Four new pieces of legislation will increase accountability and protect New Yorkers

Governor Kathy Hochul today signed a package of legislation to address workplace harassment and discrimination. Legislation (S.812B/A.2035B) establishes a toll free confidential hotline for complaints of workplace sexual harassment. Legislation (S.3395B/A.2483B) includes the State and all public employers as subject to the provisions of the Human Rights Law. Legislation (S.5870/A.7101) prohibits the release of personnel files as a retaliatory action against employees. The legislation was signed at a Women’s History Month celebration with advocates for gender equity and women’s rights. 

“From day one, it has been one of my top priorities to clean up Albany, change a culture of harassment and abuse, and ensure safe, respectful workplaces,” Governor Hochul said. “Everyone has the right to a workplace free of unlawful discrimination and harassment, and I will never stop fighting for gender equity. While there’s more work to be done, I am proud of the steps we are taking to promote safety, dignity, and respect for all New Yorkers.”   

Addressing sexual harassment is part of Governor Hochul’s Equity Agenda, which includes the creation of a Council on Gender Equity, measures to protect access to reproductive health services, including abortion care and prenatal and postnatal care, increased support for minority and women-owned businesses (MWBEs), investments in child care access, and a plan to bring free child care to every SUNY campus. The Governor is also calling on the legislature to pass the Equal Rights Amendment this session.

Legislation S.812B/A.2035B will require the Division of Human Rights to establish a toll free confidential hotline for complaints of workplace sexual harassment. Many victims of workplace sexual harassment are unable to exercise their legal rights because they are not aware of what those rights are. The function of the hotline will be to connect complainants with experienced pro-bono attorneys who will help make them aware of their legal rights and advise them on the specifics of their individualized cases. 

Legislation S.3395B/A.2483B clarifies that the State is considered an employer of anyone serving in the executive, judiciary, and legislative branches – including the staff of elected officials or judges – and subject to the provisions of the Human Rights Law. This legislation will clarify that the state will not be able to avoid responsibility for harassment of public employees and ensure that New York’s sweeping anti-harassment regulations protect both public and private employees. 

Legislation S.5870/A.7101 establishes that the release of personnel records to discredit victims of workplace discrimination counts as a retaliatory action under the Human Rights Law. The Human Rights Law expressly prohibits all forms of retaliation against complainants. This legislation clarifies that the release of a personnel record counts as retaliation except where it is necessary to comply with an investigation. This bill also provides additional recourse to victims of unlawful retaliation under this new provision by allowing them to file a complaint with the Attorney General who may commence a proceeding in state Supreme Court.   

State Senator Alessandra Biaggi said, “In the wake of last year’s events, New Yorkers have made it abundantly clear that they stand with survivors of sexual harassment and will not tolerate any failure to hold abusers accountable in the workplace. It is the duty of the legislature to build upon this momentum and enact legislation that will protect workers across all sectors to create a safe and harassment-free New York. As the sponsor of S.812B, which establishes a toll free confidential hotline for complainants of workplace sexual harassment, I am proud to see this bill signed into law further strengthening New York’s sexual harassment protections. Today we ensure that all sexual harassment survivors have the opportunity to openly seek justice as we work to build a safer New York for all.” 

State Senator Andrew Gounardes said, “For decades, an entrenched culture of abuse and corruption have silenced survivors of sexual harassment and discrimination. I want to thank Governor Hochul for signing these bills and listening to those who wish to speak up, and to ensure all workers are safe and protected in their workplaces. This would not have been possible if not for the fierce advocates and survivors who channeled their lived experiences into action, and have fought for – and won – tremendous protections for all New Yorkers.” 

Assemblymember Yuh-Line Niou said, “In 2019, my colleagues and I passed landmark sexual harassment protections for all New Yorkers, including mandating that all employers have a sexual harassment policy, employee training, and a clear complaint and investigation process which better protect New Yorkers from any form of harassment. With the passage of my bills, New York closes the loophole that leaves state staff vulnerable to sexual harassment and creates a hotline that provides victims of sexual harassment with crucial resources and legal assistance. I am proud to have sponsored these bills in the Assembly and want to thank Governor Hochul, Senator Gounardes, Senator Biaggi, and the advocacy groups, like the Sexual Harassment Working Group, who made this possible.” 

Assemblymember Jessica Gonz├ílez-Rojas said, “No New Yorker, no woman should ever fear being retaliated against because they have come forward about being harmed by someone in the workplace. With the signing of my bill today, we are sending a strong message to victims and survivors across New York State that they are not alone and will be heard, and we will protect them. Doing this during Women’s Herstory Month is particularly meaningful because we know that Black women are disproportionately represented among women who file sexual harassment charges and 1 in 3 women who file these complaints also report retaliatory action taken against them. I’m very grateful to have worked with Senator Gounardes on this bill, to the advocates for helping us advance it, and to Governor Hochul for her leadership in signing it into law today.” 

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