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Labor and Employment stock illustration.The multi-pronged requirements of the recent New York state and New York City anti-harassment laws have had the effect of creating an awareness of and a sensitivity to the issue of sexual harassment that did not previously exist in most workplaces. The well-publicized Oct. 9, 2019 deadline for completion of initial employee anti-sexual harassment training under NYS law has led many clients to reach out to their lawyers for guidance and assistance with compliance.

Although most New York business owners and human resource professionals understand that they must comply with the new requirements, they may not truly understand the full scope of their obligations and the potential ramifications of failing to comply. Among other implications, the new laws have resulted or will result in: the extension of the statute of limitations for filing a claim of sexual harassment with the New York State Division of Human Rights from one to three years, a reduction in the standard of proof required for harassment claims from “severe or pervasive” to a mere showing that the employee has been subjected to “inferior terms, conditions or privileges of employment,” and an elimination of the Faragher-Ellerth affirmative defense that had been available to employers who could demonstrate both that: (1) they had attempted to prevent harassment; and (2) the complaining employee unreasonably failed to take advantage of the employer’s avenue of redress (such as an internal complaint procedure). New York state will now be in closer alignment with the New York City Human Rights Law in allowing for an affirmative defense if an employer can show that the allegedly harassing conduct “does not rise above the level of what a reasonable victim of discrimination…would consider petty slights or trivial inconveniences.” In addition to existing remedies, including attorney fees, successful gender discrimination complainants are now able to recover punitive damages, which were previously not available under New York state law.

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