New York already has some of the strongest anti-harassment and anti-discrimination laws in the country, due in large part to sweeping amendments to the state’s anti-discrimination laws in 2018 and 2019. Nevertheless, New York lawmakers once again have workplace harassment and discrimination in their sights. Governor Hochul just signed into law two new pieces of legislation—one establishing a confidential hotline for complaints of workplace sexual harassment and one strengthening anti-retaliation protections. And it is likely that more is on the way—the New York Senate recently passed a suite of bills aimed to provide increased protections to victims of workplace harassment and discrimination. If enacted, the laws will have widespread impact on New York workplaces. Here’s what you need to know.
The Enacted Laws
So far, two pieces of the slate of legislation have been enacted. First is a law that requires the New York State Division of Human Rights (NYSDHR) to establish a toll-free, confidential hotline to provide assistance to individuals with complaints of workplace sexual harassment. The hotline must operate during regular business hours and is to be staffed by pro bono attorneys experienced in providing counsel regarding sexual harassment. The NYSDHR must work with the New York Department of Labor to disseminate information about the hotline, including on required workplace postings and sexual harassment materials. This law takes effect July 14, 2022.
Second, the existing anti-retaliation provisions of the New York State Human Rights Law (NYSHRL) have been amended to explicitly prohibit employers from releasing an employee’s personnel file in retaliation for opposing discriminatory practices, filing a complaint, or testifying or assisting in a proceeding. The law is aimed at preventing employers from leaking personnel files with the intent disparage or discredit a victim or witness of discrimination. Employers are not prohibited from disclosing an employee’s personnel file as part of the legal process in connection with any civil or criminal action or other judicial or administrative proceedings. In addition to the private right of action bestowed on employees under the NYSHRL, aggrieved parties can file a complaint with the state Attorney General, who then has the authority to commence a proceeding if, upon information and belief, an employer has, or is about to, violate this law. This law takes effect immediately.
What’s to Come
Several other bills have passed the Senate and are now under consideration by the Assembly:
What Should New York Employers Do Now?
If enacted, the pending bills will further underscore New York’s position as having some of the most protective laws against workplace harassment and discrimination. You must continue to take measures to ensure your workplaces are free from discrimination and harassment. Now is the time to shore up policies and training measures and affirm your commitment to a harassment-free workplace. Further, if these laws are enacted, you may need to revise your standard separation and settlement agreements. You should work with counsel to ensure your release agreements will remain valid and enforceable.
We will continue to monitor further developments and provide updates on this and other labor and employment issues affecting New York employers, so make sure you are subscribed to Fisher Phillips’ Insight System to gather the most up-to-date information. If you have questions, please contact your Fisher Phillips attorney or any attorney in our New York City office.
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