According to our partners at Littler, the State of New York has enacted some of the most rigorous #MeToo-related laws in the country. Among them is the recently signed Adult Survivor’s Act (ASA), which essentially creates a “one-year lookback window for survivors of sexual assault that occurred when they were over the age of 18 to sue their abusers regardless of when the abuse occurred.”
What is the significance of this law?
According to proponents of the legislation in National Law Review, the law adds “critical energy to the ongoing momentum of the #MeToo movement, allowing survivors to file suit against both their abusers and the institutions that enabled them.”
Prior to the ASA, these allegations would have been time-barred—meaning past victims may never receive the monetary benefits to help them through the emotional distress caused through harassment.
Our partners at SHRM regard this kind of legislation as a “win for victims of mistreatment—and not only for those who want to speak publicly, but for their colleagues who might be unaware that others are facing harassment or assault.”
In explaining the rationale for the new legislation, Senate Majority Leader Andrea Stewart-Cousins said, “For too long, our legal system has failed adult survivors and prevented them from accessing true justice. It takes time to come forward, particularly when faced with the trauma that accompanies disclosures. With the Adult Survivors Act, we are saying that we believe you and that you deserve accountability.”
Littler points out the ASA is just one of many legislative changes since the height of the #MeToo movement. For example, New York was one of the first states to require all employers to train employees annually in sexual harassment prevention. Currently, eight jurisdictions require employers to train their workforce on preventing sexual harassment: California, Connecticut, Delaware, District of Columbia, Illinois (special requirements for Chicago), Maine, New York (special requirements for NYC), and Washington.
#MeToo laws are also evolving on a national scale. The Speak Out Act, signed into law by President Biden in December of 2022, now invalidates non-disclosure agreements (NDAs) that were entered into “between the employee and employer before a complaint of harassment or assault arose.”
What does the law mean for employers?
An individual suing using the lookback provision brought to life through the ASA may choose to sue a former manager or employer they feel is “responsible for a past incident of unwanted sexual touching. The employer need not have had direct knowledge of or involvement in the alleged abuse to be sued.”
It’s also important to note that while the ASA is a powerful effort by New York to support the rights of sexual abuse survivors, it is time limited. November 23, 2023 is the cutoff date for filing a claim, which means legal action is expected to move swiftly for affected organizations.
Our partners at Littler suggest “New York employers consult an attorney when they receive an action or threat of action that utilizes the ASA. Further, New York employers should consult an attorney with workplace violence subject matter experience on internal protocols in responding to such allegations and preventing sexual assault and unwanted touching generally in the workplace.”
For advocates of the law, ASA is another step forward in respecting the process of sexual harassment victims, and empowering survivors to hold their abusers accountable.