As the Weinstein criminal trial opens in New York City just days before the beginning of the 2020 Legislative Session, The Sexual Harassment Working Group – seven former legislative staffers who experienced or reported abuse – released their 2020 agenda.
“The Sexual Harassment Working Group formed in early 2018 to provide a voice for survivors to participate in the policy-making process of local government. We used our own experience as survivors of abuse to help radically overhaul the New York State Human Rights law for millions of workers. Our priorities for 2020 reflect the next phase of survivors’ rights in New York State, and we plan to push hard for them, as well as continue to support worker-led efforts in the New York City Council to correct the abuser protectionism in place,” said The Sexual Harassment Working Group.
SHWG 2020 State and City Priorities
New York State:
Require all settlements for workplace harassment to be filed with the Office of the Attorney General Civil Rights Division. Filers should pay a fee to fund the office’s work, and the penalty for failing to file should be to render the agreement unenforceable.
Ban the use of liquidated damages against victims in any and all non-disclosure agreements (A849-A/S5469).
Extend the statute of limitations for actions based on harassment from three to six years (A304/S6322).
Clarify that employees of elected and appointed officials should have the same harassment and discrimination protections as other workers across the state (A8847/S6828). Whoever signs your check is your employer.
Prohibit harassment and discrimination by non-employees (A7220/S4513), aka protection from lobbyists, clients, customers, or vendors.
Prohibit individuals convicted of or who has pleaded guilty to sex crimes, or those with a negative determination or substantiated claims of harassment/discrimination by a government entity, from commercial lobbying, aka the Boxley Bill.
Eliminate JCOPE and replace it with an independent body capable of real oversight and investigation of harassment and discrimination by state elected and appointed officials.
Mandate government agencies to provide victims with investigation rights that include transparent information about the process, and ongoing updates on the timeline.
Establish a joint Assembly and Senate policy to reimburse travel and lodging for a minimum of one district office employee to travel to Albany or other parts of the state for official legislative functions. Policies should be transparent, and equally applicable to all members.
Clarify that whistleblower protections apply to staff of elected officials.
New York City:
Push for the New York City Council to hold another round of hearings on sexual harassment and discrimination, to evaluate protections for government employees and the implementation of new local laws.
Establish an independent process for reporting and investigating claims against elected officials in New York City government.
In 2019, the SHWG successfully advocated for the first legislative sexual harassment hearings in a quarter-century. The hearings lasted a combined total of 24 hours and led to a landmark overhaul of harassment legislation improving the rights of workers statewide. Among other changes, the new laws eased the overburdensome “severe or pervasive” standard previously used to prove harassment claims, wiped out a portion of a victim-blaming defense which barred recovery if a worker didn’t report discrimination, established trauma-informed timeframes for reporting harassment to the relevant state agency, provided improved language access for workplace harassment materials, increased protections for workers who choose to sign non-disclosure agreements, and expanded some 2018 sexual harassment protections to all forms of discrimination. Many of these legal changes stemmed from reforms proposed by the SHWG in its June 2018 policy paper.
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