State and local governments are increasingly regulating the workplace. In the first and second quarters of 2020 alone, legislatures were particularly active in passing laws addressing sexual harassment training, discrimination including hair discrimination, criminal background inquiries, salary history, and a variety of unpaid and paid leaves. Although it is not possible to discuss all state and local laws, this update provides an overview of recent and upcoming legislative developments to help you and your organization stay in compliance. (Please note that developments specifically related to COVID-19 are not included in this update.)
On Wednesday, June 3, the Minnesota Supreme Court upheld the “severe or pervasive” standard used in workplace sexual harassment cases. But in doing so, it held that lower courts interpreting the standard must consider today’s definition of appropriate workplace conduct.
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Late last month, we previewed our upcoming series of blog posts discussing Employee Handbooks – What’s New and Why Does it Matter? If you happened to read that post, then you know we introduced the topics for parts one through six of our handbook series. We will now embark on part one of our journey to the land of employee handbooks. This journey will have several other stops along the way, but for now our topic is anti-harassment policies and training in the #MeToo era.
In April, New York governor Andrew Cuomo signed a sweeping budget bill, which included several major amendments to the New York Human Rights Law (NYHRL). One of the most significant aspects of the bill was the mandate that New York employers adopt robust sexual harassment policies as well as provide mandatory anti-sexual harassment training to all employees, not just managers. Specifically, the law requires employers with four (4) or more employees to adopt sexual harassment policies and training consistent with a model policy and model training prepared jointly by the Commissioner of Labor and the New York State Human Rights Division.
That law became effective on October 9, 2018, and New York state has finally released the model materials, an online “Toolkit for Employers”, including a model sexual harassment policy, a model complaint form, and a model interactive training program. All of the state’s model materials are accessible to employers via a website set up by the government.
Delaware is the latest state to mandate that employers provide anti-harassment training to employees. Delaware joins New York, California, Connecticut, and Maine as states that require employers to provide such training. The new law amends the Delaware Discrimination in Employment Act (“DDEA”), and takes effect on January 1, 2019.
While the DDEA already prohibited discrimination based on sex, the recent amendments are devoted to prevention of sexual harassment in the workplace. The new law amends the DDEA to define sexual harassment and provides the same process used for Title VII violations with regard to exhaustion of administrative remedies prior to filing a private lawsuit.
In the wake of the #MeToo movement, a number of states are considering legislation that would limit an employer’s ability to use non-disclosure agreements (“NDAs”) when settling sexual harassment claims. New York was the first state to enact such legislation, which was passed as part of a wide-ranging budget bill that takes effect July 11, 2018. New York’s law bans non-disclosure provisions in settlements of claims involving sexual harassment allegations, unless confidentiality is the “complainant’s preference,” provided some onerous procedures are complied with. Washington State passed a similar law. Arizona, California, and Pennsylvania are also considering legislation to restrict the use of NDAs.