President Biden is expected to soon sign into law the Ending Forced Arbitration of Sexual Assault and Sexual Harassment Act of 2021 (the “Act”), which was recently passed by both houses of Congress. President Biden has long supported measures to limit mandatory arbitration clauses in general and specifically endorsed the Act, which received bipartisan support.
The Act will amend the Federal Arbitration Act to limit every employer’s ability to mandate predispute arbitration of an employee’s claims of sexual harassment or sexual assault. The salient language provides:
Notwithstanding any other provision of this title, at the election of the person alleging conduct constituting a sexual harassment dispute or sexual assault dispute, or the named representative of a class or in a collective action alleging such conduct, no predispute arbitration agreement or predispute joint-action waiver shall be valid or enforceable with respect to a case which is filed under Federal, Tribal, or State law and relates to the sexual assault dispute or the sexual harassment dispute.
Effective September 1, 2021, new provisions in the Texas Commission on Human Rights Act (“TCHRA”) provide greater protections and remedies for employees alleging sexual harassment. Key changes include the following:
The new provisions set a heightened standard for an employer’s response to a sexual harassment complaint. An employer now “commits an unlawful employment practice if sexual harassment of an employee occurs and the employer or the employer’s agents or supervisors: (1) know or should have known that the conduct constituting sexual harassment was occurring; and (2) fail to take immediate and appropriate corrective action.” This language somewhat (but not exactly) mirrors the Title VII analysis for coworker harassment claims, which considers whether the employer took “prompt” and effective remedial action. The amendments to the TCHRA do not define what amounts to “immediate and appropriate corrective action,” or to what degree “prompt” differs from “immediate,” and this is likely to be a disputed and litigated issue in Texas courts. Additionally, this new standard of proof does not differentiate between coworker and supervisor harassment claims—another potentially significant departure from Title VII, which generally holds employers liable for supervisor harassment unless they are able to establish an affirmative defense.
Unlike the remainder of the TCHRA, which applies to employers with 15 or more employees, the new sexual harassment provisions essentially cover all employers (anyone who “employs one or more employees”) and further opens the door to potential individual liability for managers, coworkers, or HR (someone who “acts directly in an interests of the employer in relation to an employee”). As a result, Texas plaintiffs may begin naming supervisors, HR professionals, and other involved employees as defendants in sexual harassment lawsuits—and those individuals may be held personally liable for damages if the plaintiff is successful.
New Jersey appears to be the next state to ban non-disclosure clauses in employment contracts or settlement agreements. On January 31, 2019, Senate Bill 121 passed the New Jersey Assembly by a 68-4-4 vote and the Senate in a 36-0 vote, sending the bill to Governor Phil Murphy’s desk.
Not Just About Non-Disclosure. The bill was introduced early last year in response to the #MeToo movement and deems unenforceable and against public policy any employment contract provision that either waives substantive or procedural rights or remedies relating to claims of discrimination, retaliation, or harassment, or has “the purpose or effect of concealing the details” of such any such claim. In effect, the bill prohibits forced arbitration of discrimination, retaliation, or harassment claims—of course, that includes sexual harassment claims. Similarly, the bill prohibits confidentiality or non-disclosure provisions from being included in employment contracts or settlement agreements involving those same types of claims. The bill does not prohibit employers from including noncompetition provisions in employment agreements, or from prohibiting the disclosure of proprietary information, which includes non-public trade secrets, business plan, and customer information. Continue reading “Garden State Says #MeToo: Bill Barring Non-Disclosure Clauses Passes in Both Chambers”
As we have advised you in previous blog posts, New York State has passed legislation mandating that employers adopt an anti-harassment policy and conduct harassment training for all employees. The law requires that, by October 9, 2018, employers distribute to employees in New York State a written policy that meets certain prescribed legal standards.
Most importantly, although the New York law had originally required that employers conduct harassment training for all employees by January 1, 2019, the guidance issued this week extends the deadline to October 9, 2019. Please use this additional time effectively!
Recently, the New York City Commission on Human Rights (the “Commission”) released the Fact Sheet and Notice referenced in the Stop Sexual Harassment in NYC Act (the “Act”).
The Act, which was signed into law on May 9, 2018, requires New York City-based employers with at least 15 employees (whether or not all of the employees work in the City) to implement over the course of the next year significant mandates aimed at addressing sexual harassment in the workplace, including posting and fact sheet distribution requirements. The Commission has now followed through with the officially sanctioned notice and poster. Continue reading “Poster and Notice Requirements for “Stop Sexual Harassment in NYC Act””
The #MeToo movement has shone new light on issues for employers in the maritime industry seeking to ensure that seafarers and shore-based personnel can participate in a work environment free of sexual harassment and assault, both shipboard and shoreside. Employees at sea, often for months at a time, can face special challenges associated with a work environment that can be thousands of miles away from any home office, and that can lead to feelings of isolation, make communications difficult, involve close proximity between work spaces and living quarters and generally require employees to remain at the workplace during rest periods.
In other sectors of the global maritime industry, companies engaged in international business can find themselves navigating scenarios that arise from expectations regarding workplace interactions between men and women that are as diverse as their workforces. We examine here the unique legal framework that applies to sexual harassment in the maritime context, what to keep in mind for addressing incidents and recent trends regarding steps employers are currently taking in response. Continue reading “What #MeToo Means for the Maritime Sector”
Maryland’s legislature recently passed Senate Bill 1010 in an effort to provide victims of sexual harassment additional workplace protections. The Bill awaits the governor’s signature.
Set to be effective October 1, 2018, and titled “Disclosing Sexual Harassment in the Workplace Act of 2018” (the “Act”), the Act voids any provision in an employment contract, policy, or agreement that waives substantive or procedural rights or remedies relating to a sexual harassment claim that accrues in the future, or to a retaliation claim for reporting or asserting a right or remedy based on sexual harassment (unless prohibited by federal law). Any employer who enforces, or attempts to enforce, such a provision will be liable for the employee’s attorney’s fees and costs. The Act will apply to any employment contract, policy, or agreement executed, “implicitly or explicitly extended,” or renewed on or after the effective date; so, it seems to cover policies and agreements implemented prior to October 1, 2018 that continue in place after that date. Continue reading “New Maryland #MeToo Bill Sets Up Public Shaming and Restrictions”
On April 12, New York Governor Andrew Cuomo signed into law a budget bill that includes significant changes in the obligations of New York employers related to sexual harassment (the “Anti-Harassment Law”). According to the Governor, the Anti-Harassment Law provides the “strongest and most comprehensive anti-sexual harassment protections in the nation,” as part of a hefty $168 billion budget deal for the 2019 fiscal year (which started April 1, 2018). The Anti-Harassment Law is consistent with a recent push by states and localities to expand employee protections against unlawful harassment in response to the #MeToo movement.