By City Council Member Keith Powers
Most businesses in New York City are small businesses. Not just small, but really small: a whopping 62.8 percent of businesses in the city have just 1-4 employees, according to census data.
For this reason, I was surprised to discover that workers for New York City businesses with fewer than four employees had no legal protection from incidents of sexual harassment under New York City’s Human Rights Law.
That’s why I introduced my first piece of legislation in January to extend sexual harassment protection to all private employees in New York City regardless of their size. The protection already existed at the state level, but this law wasn’t already in place here. That means every single private employee wasn’t protected. It was important to address this oversight, especially given how many employees fall into this group.
Our country is experiencing a watershed moment as women and men speak up about their experiences of harassment, creating the era of #MeToo. As stories unfold and wrongdoings are revealed, cities and states are taking action to modernize laws and prevent any incidents in the future.
Last week, Mayor Bill de Blasio signed my bill into law, along with 10 other bills in the City Council that address sexual harassment across our city. The package, the “Stop Sexual Harassment in NYC Act,” aims to protect everyone in the workplace. Other legislation passed as part of the package now requires anti-harassment trainings and education in the workplace, which will allow New York City to set a new standard for awareness and recourse.
The passage of this legislative package allows New York City to take the lead nationally, and to have our city set an example for the rest of the country. New York City has built a reputation to maintain inclusive policies, and to step up for those who might otherwise go unheard. This law stands to endorse that reputation.
The work does not stop here. The Council needs to keep a close eye to ensure proper implementation of these reforms, and has a responsibility to make sure workers are informed of their protections under the law. The Council should also commit to annual oversight of our laws and practices to see where we need to strengthen and improve laws. Finally, we need to make sure that we have strong processes that work for reporting harassment. Too often, we find that women and men are reluctant to file a complaint or are ignored by their supervisors.
Sexual harassment happens in workplaces across New York City, and beyond Fortune 500 companies — so every business of every size has to be held accountable. We must make sure every New Yorker is protected from harassment, including those whose stories would never make the front page. The Council’s package of legislation is a good start.
Keith Powers is Council Member for Manhattan’s District Four.