2015 was a hectic year on the New York labor and employment law front, yielding mixed results for employers and, in many instances, creating more questions than answers. Myriad state and local laws were proposed (and many passed into law), and a rash of federal and state court decisions have re-shaped an array of workplace relations.

Given this overwhelming flurry of activity, we have distilled down the five most important developments with which all New York employers should ensure familiarity – and, more importantly, compliance – as we head into 2016. They are:

  • Minimum Wage Increases: Effective December 31, 2015, three separate minimum wage increases will take effect across the Empire State. One is a general wage increase for most non-exempt (hourly) and exempt (salaried) workers. The other two impact tipped and fast food workers. These wage hikes will likely force many N.Y. state businesses to consider cutting staff, reducing hours, and/or raising prices. Learn more about these important changes here.
  • Expanded Workplace Protections for Women: On January 19, 2016, a series of bills expanding the state’s gender-based employment protections will take effect. The bills are part of a legislative package, known more commonly as the “Women’s Equality Act.” Gov. Andrew Cuomo first introduced the package back in 2013, in an effort to combat perceived workplace sex discrimination, among other things. The bills (soon to be laws) expand existing equal pay protections, require accommodations for pregnant workers, and ban “familial status” discrimination.  Learn more about each of the bills set to take effect here.
  • Invasive Background Check Laws: This past fall, New York City enacted two new laws that severely restrict what employers can ask during the hiring process.  The first law, dubbed the “Stop Credit Discrimination in Employment Act,” bars employers from requesting or considering a prospective or current employee’s “consumer credit history.” The second law, known as the “Fair Chance Act,” generally prohibits employers from inquiring about a job applicant’s pending arrest or criminal conviction record until after an employer extends a conditional offer of employment.  Learn more about these new laws, and your company’s attendant obligations, here and here.
  • Transportation Benefits Law: Effective January 1, 2016, most NYC employers with 20 or more full-time employees must offer their employees the opportunity to use pre-tax earnings to purchase qualified transportation fringe benefits, other than parking.  Learn more about this law here.
  • Protections for Transgender Workers: On October 23, 2015, an executive order issued by Gov. Cuomo expanded the state’s anti-discrimination law to ban discrimination and harassment based on transgender status, gender identity, and gender dysphoria.  Although New York State Division of Human Rights regulations that will effectuate the governor’s mandate have not yet taken effect, employers should review their handbooks to ensure compliance with the expanded protections now.  More information about the governor’s action can be found here.

As we head into 2016, the New York employment law landscape is as dynamic as ever.  Empire State employers therefore can, and indeed should, expect significant changes to their employment relationships in the new year.  It is more crucial than ever that employers stay in regular contact with their experienced employment law counsel to prepare.  You should make sure this is a New Year’s resolution you actually keep!