Council Aims to Seize #MeToo Moment

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Legislation would expand workplace protections against sexual harassment


  • City lawmakers gathered at City Hall Feb. 28 to announce a set of bills aimed at improving New York’s response to sexual harassment in both the public and private sector. Photo: NYC Council, via Twitter

  • Protesters during the January 2018 Women’s March near Trump International Hotel and Tower. Photo: Alec Perkins, via flickr

Against the backdrop of the international #MeToo movement, the City Council is weighing a broad legislative package intended to curb workplace sexual harassment and abuse in New York City.

The 11 bills under consideration in the Council represent what city officials hope will be the first steps of a comprehensive citywide effort to address and prevent sexual harassment, a topic of increased public focus in the wake of well-publicized recent cases of misconduct that have impacted various industries and institutions.

“Countless women and men have raised their voices and created the #MeToo movement,” Council Member Helen Rosenthal said at a Feb. 28 hearing on sexual harassment policy. “The courage and grace of these survivors demand a reckoning, not just for the powerful individuals finally brought to account, but for our society as a whole. We owe them a great deal of gratitude — and more to the point, we owe them action.”

The Stop Sexual Harassment in NYC Act, as lawmakers are referring to the package of bills, will “expand protections, confront flawed processes, and establish new mechanisms for accountability,” Rosenthal said.

Rosenthal, who chairs the Council’s committee on women, is the primary sponsor of two of the bills, one of which would extend the statute of limitations for filing a gender-based harassment from one to three years. Her other bill would mandate a survey of city agencies to assess workplace conditions, incidences of sexual harassment and the effectiveness of preventive and response measures. The survey results would be used to develop action plans for each city agency.

A bill sponsored by Council Speaker Corey Johnson would require all city agencies to conduct anti-sexual harassment training twice per year.

“As the largest employer in New York, this starts with the city getting its own house in order and leading the way,” Rosenthal said. “Each and every one of our 330,000 employees is entitled to a safe and respectful workplace, and we must do more to guarantee it.”

The bills aim to address sexual harassment on a number of fronts, not only within city government but also in the private sector. One bill would require all businesses with 15 or more employees to conduct annual anti-sexual harassment training sessions; another would require a poster with information on sexual harassment rights and responsibilities to be displayed in all workplaces.

In addition to testimony from representatives of city agencies, the hearing featured input from a number of outside experts and advocates. “What we learned from some of the advocates is the importance of good training for bystanders,” Rosenthal said. “By that I mean both education so that if you see it happening in your own workplace you learn interventions and understand the importance of reporting, and for managers and supervisors, making it clear that it’s their job to report when there’s a complaint that’s been made.”

Council Member Keith Powers is the primary sponsor of a bill that would apply sexual harassment protections to all employers, regardless of size (currently, protections under the city’s Human Rights Law generally apply only to employers with four or more employees).

“I was shocked that not every employee was already protected against sexual harassment, so I believed it was essential to provide more protections for men and women who are working here in New York City,” Powers said.

Powers said he expects the Council to evaluate the recommendations of those who testified at the Feb. 28 hearing and move quickly to act on the bills.

“We can’t really wait to expand protections or training to anybody, because as we’ve seen in the news almost every single day now, it’s an outstanding issue that has proliferated all aspects of employment and in life,” he said. “So we don’t have much time to wait to do more on this topic, and I think we will pass legislation quickly to make sure that New York City is a leader on this issue throughout the country and the world.”

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