The sad fact is that sexual harassment is far more widespread than it should be. For proof, you don't need to look any farther than the many victims who shared their stories as part of the recent #MeToo movement. The movement has resonated throughout the United States and across the globe, and it has forced lawmakers to act.
In New York, the #MeToo movement has inspired the recent passage of tough new harassment laws. As the New York Daily News reported, these laws could mean the end of handsy politicians. They also introduce some important changes that should help people throughout the state, not just the staffers who endured sexual harassment in Albany.
What are the most important changes to New York's harassment laws?
Most of the new laws take effect in October, and there are some important changes among them. The National Law Review recently looked at the 10 changes most likely to affect private businesses. Of these, four are particularly important for anyone who has suffered sexual harassment at work:
- Lower burden of proof. Traditionally, to argue that sexual harassment transformed your workplace into a hostile environment, you needed to prove the harassment was "pervasive and repeated." But this often proved difficult, especially in certain courts. The new law sets a new standard. You just need to show that your harassment targeted you unfairly and led to "inferior terms, conditions or privileges of employment."
- Longer reporting time. The new law increases the statute of limitations. You now have three years, rather than one, to file with the New York State Division of Human Rights.
- Elimination of a common employer defense. Employers will no longer be able to counter harassment suits by arguing that you didn't first make a workplace complaint. Additionally, you don't need to compare your harassment to any other employees' treatment, but you do still need to show that the harassment amounted to more than "petty slights" or "trivial inconveniences."
- Non-disclosure agreements severely limited. Employers who used non-disclosure agreements to keep victims quiet will now have to look for new ways to deal with their problems. They will no longer be able to hold you to such agreements unless you feel the terms are in your best interest. This means that non-disclosure agreements written after January 1, 2020 should not prevent you from reporting your discrimination.
All together, these changes give victims new strength to stand up and fight against sexual harassment. Employers have been warned.
Be the change
As important as the changes in these new laws may be, they don't work all by themselves. They only work when New Yorkers demand their rights. The laws may have shifted the balance of power well in the direction of employees, but that balance was already shifting thanks to the power of the #MeToo movement. You have more power to stand up to harassment, but you still need to do it. It's the only way to hold people accountable for their bad actions.