"We need actual change and that change must happen now. The budget process came and went without action on the governor's proposed critically important legislation to further combat sexual harassment. Hearings give voice to the institutionally silenced and have been a welcome change and important part of the process this year. Now it's time to act."
Today, the New York Daily News published an op-ed by Secretary to the Governor Melissa DeRosa on the need to expand sexual harassment laws in New York State during this legislative session. The text of the op-ed is available here and below.
Last year, Gov. Cuomo championed a sweeping package of legislation that not only provided the Division of Human Rights with new, stronger tools to combat the scourge of sexual harassment, but also enacted other critically important and long overdue protections. Those measures prohibit employers from putting mandatory arbitration provisions in employment contracts in relation to sexual harassment, require state officers and employees to reimburse the state for any payments made for judgments related to sexual harassment, and ensure that nondisclosure agreements can only be used when the condition of confidentiality is the explicit preference of the survivor.
As a result, New York is now a national leader in the fight against sexual harassment. We passed the strongest government sexual harassment policy in the United States because, as the governor said, "sexual harassment of women is real, it is undeniable and this is the moment in history to make the reform and end it once and for all."
In January, the governor proposed legislation to expand on New York's nation leading sexual harassment policies in this year's State of the State and Executive Budget to ensure workplaces are safe environments for everyone.
These bills would lower the high bar set for employees to hold employers accountable for sexual harassment. Currently, complainants who face harassment must prove the conduct was "severe or pervasive," which creates a barrier for legitimate claims. Our proposal eliminates this strict standard and would allow more legitimate claims to be advanced.
These bills would also require that nondisclosure agreements include language that would allow employees to file official complaints and require employers to conspicuously post a sexual harassment education poster designed by the Department of Labor and the Division of Human Rights.
And, critically, the governor advanced legislation to remove the statute of limitations for Rape in the Second Degree and Third Degree — allowing victims the full opportunity to get justice.
Last week, the Legislature held hearings on expanding New York's nation-leading sexual harassment laws. The conversation about the important issue of preventing and addressing sexual harassment in the workplace has been going on with great intensity for the last several years.
Conversations are important; action is better.
It is vital that workplaces are safe and free from sexual harassment, workers' rights are protected, and employers not only quickly and forcefully address any harassment, but they also take meaningful steps to ensure that it never happens again.
We need all available tools to address this issue. And while hearings are important, they are not enough. We need actual change and that change must happen now. The budget process came and went without action on the governor's proposed critically important legislation to further combat sexual harassment.
Hearings give voice to the institutionally silenced and have been a welcome change and important part of the process this year. Now it's time to act.