On Wednesday, October 21, 2015, New York Governor Andrew Cuomo signed a package of eight bills that originally were part of his Women’s Equality Act, which he first introduced in 2013. Five of these new laws pertain to discrimination in employment and include the following:
Achieve Pay Equity: This bill (S. 1 / A. 6075) eliminates a loophole in the current law that allows employers to prohibit employees from discussing their salaries under threat of termination or suspension. Specifically, the bill allows employees to discuss their wages with each other. Further, the bill increases the amount of damages available to an employee if an employer willfully violates the law, permitting liquidated damages of up to three hundred percent of the total amount of wages found to be due.
Protect Victims of Sexual Harassment: This bill (S. 2 / A. 5360) protects all employees from sexual harassment in the workplace regardless of the size of the employer. Currently, the definition of “employer” excludes employers with fewer than four employees, thus prohibiting individuals from filing harassment complaints with the New York Division of Human Rights against those employers. This new law expands the definition of “employer” to cover all employers within New York in sexual harassment cases so that an employee of any New York business can file a workplace sexual harassment complaint.
Remove Barriers to Remedying Discrimination: This bill (S. 3 / A.7189) allows successful plaintiffs to recover attorneys’ fees in employment or credit discrimination cases based on sex. This law enables victims to have the opportunity to vindicate their rights and be made whole in cases where they prevail. Under existing New York State law, plaintiffs cannot recover attorneys’ fees at trial for employment discrimination cases.
End Family Status Discrimination: This bill (S. 4 / A. 7317) prohibits employment discrimination based on familial status. Currently, New York State law only prohibits discrimination based on familial status in the areas of housing and credit. This expansion is aimed to protect employees who often suffer from stereotypes relative to their status as parents or guardians of children under the age of eighteen. This new law prohibits employment agencies, licensing agencies, or labor organizations from discriminating against workers based on their familial status.
Protect Women from Pregnancy Discrimination: This bill (S. 8 / A. 4272) requires employers to provide reasonable accommodations for pregnant employees. Some pregnancies can result in medical conditions requiring accommodations within the workplace. It has been noted that current protections for pregnant women are confusing and have been misinterpreted. This new law clarifies that employers must perform a reasonable accommodation analysis for pregnant employees.
Each of the above take effect on the ninetieth day after being signed by Governor Cuomo, or January 20, 2016. If employers have any questions regarding these new laws, they are encouraged to seek advice from counsel.