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Senate GOP adds protections to Cuomo sex harassment proposal

ALBANY — New York’s response to the national outrage over sexual harassment in the workplace started to take shape Monday after the State Senate proposed adding protections for victims and employers to Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo’s legislative proposal.

The Senate’s Republican majority released its proposal Monday. The Senate majority and Cuomo agree in concept to prohibit anonymity in court-approved settlements unless the victim seeks the protection; to ban mandatory arbitration of sexual harassment cases by employers; to create a uniform policy across all branches of state government; and to prohibit taxpayer-paid settlements in government.

The Assembly’s Democratic majority also favors prohibiting employers from forcing employees to waive their rights to seek action on sexual harassment, providing confidentiality for victims who want it, and banning mandatory arbitration policies.

The Assembly plan differs in that it calls for more power for the attorney general to prosecute criminal and civil cases involved in sexual harassment.

Senate Finance Committee Chairwoman Catharine Young (R-Olean) cited the “#MeToo!” effort nationwide in which victims of sexual harassment broke their silence. “Those simple yet powerful words have become a rallying cry for women and men who have been victims of sexual harassment,” she said.

Senate Democrats, however, contend that the Republican measure doesn’t assure that sexual harassment claims would be investigated and that state laws are still too weak. “The pattern and record in this state is that we aren’t doing it right,” said Sen. Liz Krueger (D-Manhattan) said in Senate floor debate Monday.

  • Cuomo also proposes to require companies doing business with the state to report sexual assaults and harassments and to void employer policies that require arbitration of sexual harassment cases or bar employees from reporting cases to law enforcement.

The Senate Republican majority’s proposal includes:

  • Defining sexual harassment in law in line with the definition in federal law. The definition would include: “Unwelcome sexual advances, requests for sexual favors, and other verbal or physical conduct of a sexual nature when submission to or rejection of such conduct, explicitly or implicitly, affects an individual’s employment, unreasonably interferes with an individual’s work performance or creates an intimidating, hostile or offensive work environment without regard to actual economic injury to or discharge of the individual.”
  • Providing sexual harassment protections to independent contractors hired by companies.

The Senate Republicans, however, don’t agree with Cuomo’s proposals to require companies doing business with the state to report incidents or to void company policies that bar employees from seeking to report sexual harassment to law enforcement.

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