Legislation Seeks to End Practice of Forced Arbitration for Survivors of Sexual Harassment in the Workplace
Proposal is Vital Part of 2018 Women's Agenda for New York: Equal Rights, Equal Opportunity
Governor Andrew M. Cuomo today detailed new multi-pronged efforts to combat sexual harassment in the workplace, further building upon his nation-leading 2018 Women's Agenda for New York: Equal Rights, Equal Opportunity. This legislation, included in the FY 2019 Executive Budget proposal, seeks to end the practice of employers forcing employees to enter contracts that limit their ability to seek justice for sexual harassment in the forum of their choice, empowering survivors of sexual harassment to seek justice on their own terms.
"Sexual harassment's pervasive abuse tears at the fabric of society and violates personal and public trust and in New York we are taking every step to ensure that this abhorrent practice is stopped once and for all," Governor Cuomo said. "With this proposal, we can enhance fairness and protections for victims and survivors of sexual harassment in the workplace while helping to ensure that no one has to ever say the words 'Me Too,' ever again."
"New York State has zero tolerance when it comes to sexual assault in the workplace. For too long, forced arbitration clauses have stifled the voices of women who have been subjected to such treatment," Lieutenant Governor and Chair, New York Women's Suffrage Commission, Kathy Hochul said. "Victims of sexual harassment should be able to seek justice without fear of repercussions. Our efforts to combat this important issue as part of the Women's Agenda will ensure equal rights and protections for all, regardless of gender identity, race, or age."
"With a frequency that shook the nation, women spoke up again and again about sexual harassment, misogyny and sexism all over the country," Secretary to the Governor and Chair, New York State Council on Women and Girls, Melissa DeRosa said. "New York will lead the way to be the change required by this moment by taking direct aim at the culture of secrecy, dominance and power inequality that allowed sexual harassment to thrive."
Forced arbitration clauses in employment documents that employees must sign without the option of amending in order to gain employment prevent the employee from adjudicating a claim on sexual harassment through a law enforcement investigation or court trials. The Governor's proposed legislation would prohibit companies from forcing employees into employment contract policies and empower victims to pursue justice and end the culture of protecting harassers.
One in four women are sexually harassed in the workplace and are more likely to change jobs than women who are not harassed. Because of the power structures enforced by clauses such as forced arbitration, the offender can remain in power and the victim can feel forced to leave their job, forcing a choice between their current career security and their safety.
Andrea Shapiro Davis, Founder and Chair of the Women's City Network and Former Executive Director of the New York City Commission on Women's Issues said, "I applaud Governor Cuomo for his comprehensive proposal to address sexual harassment in the workplace. I was a victim of sexual harassment 25 years ago and signed a non-disclosure agreement, which I regret to this day. We need everyone—government, corporations and individual New Yorkers, male and female-- to work together to eliminate this scourge of sexual harassment in our society."
Women's Bar Association of the State of New York said, "We strongly support Governor Andrew Cuomo's legislation that seeks to end forced arbitration for victims of sexual harassment in the workplace. Arbitration proceedings, and the results, are kept secret which lends itself to the continuation of sexual harassment in the workplace as the 'bad actors' and their actions are not exposed. This legislation would end that practice and allow victims to seek justice in the forum of their choice which includes a right to a jury trial."
In addition to ending forced arbitration clauses, Governor Cuomo is proposing additional efforts to combat this practice, including:
- Advance legislation to prevent taxpayer funds from being used for settlements against individuals relating to sexual assault or harassment and to ensure that individual harassers are held accountable
- Implement an independent and anonymous whistleblower process across all branches of state and local government to help individuals file complaints of sexual harassment without fear of retribution or consequence
- Propose a uniform code of sexual harassment policies binding on all branches of state and local government and an independent and anonymous whistleblower process to help individuals to communicate complaints across state and local government without fear of retribution or consequence
- Combat the culture of silence that too often shields abusers from accountability through a series of actions to promote transparency while simultaneously protecting the identity and privacy of those who are harassed
- Propose legislation to prohibit confidentiality agreements relating to sexual assault or harassment for all public entities and branches of government—State and local— unless it is the express preference of the victim
- Propose mandatory annual reporting for any companies that do business with the state that will require disclosure of the number of sexual harassment violations and nondisclosure agreements executed by that company and also require that they disclose whether they provide sexual harassment training in the workplace
These measures will ensure that all employees are provided with a safer work environment, to which they are all entitled.
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