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Employers must fully understand new sexual harassment laws

With the attention that sexual harassment is now getting in New York and across the nation, it is no surprise that many states - New York included - are tightening up the laws regarding how these allegations are handled. While these steps are intended to protect employees, it is undeniable that they can also make it difficult to conduct business if employers are repeatedly accused of sexual harassment and related violations, and the laws are in place to hold them accountable even if it is a situation that is not so clear.

For employers who are concerned about how the new employment law will impact them, it is crucial to have a grasp of the mandates. With the new law, employers are no longer shielded from liability if there is an employee who did not file a complaint or failed to adhere to the procedures that are required when filing a report. This is meant to protect workers who have been harassed and fail to complain because they were concerned about retaliation. In addition, the harassment does not need to be classified as "severe and pervasive."

Employers were taken aback by the scope of the new law. Concerns as to the potential rise in lawsuits is real. With the new laws, claims that otherwise would not have been successful are expected to have a better chance of yielding a positive outcome for the employee. If a claim is categorized as "trivial or petty," it will not be viable. These terms must be defined in the future. The statute of limitations regarding sexual harassment has also been extended. The complainant will have three years instead of one year.

Employers can take certain steps to address these new laws, like updating employee handbooks and being more hands-on in training and disciplinary procedures if there is even a minor allegation of misbehavior in the workplace. Still, this is a worrisome change for many employers, as they can be confronted with lawsuits they previously would not have. Understanding employment law for employers can help to prepare for these changes and defend against claims as they arise.

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