On March 16, 2022, NY Governor Hochul signed a series of bills into law aimed at combating harassment and discrimination in the workplace.
Prohibition of the release of personnel files as retaliation
The NYS Senate, in its justification to for the bill, stated that retaliation frequently appeared in the form of leaking an employee’s personnel file with the intent to disparage or discredit a victim or witness of discrimination or harassment in the workplace.
Employers are now prohibited from disclosing information in the personnel file of an employee who opposed unlawful discrimination, filed a complaint or testified or assisted in a legal proceeding to an unauthorized third party for any reason.
The law also states that an employer may disclose an employee’s personnel file information when necessary to respond to a complaint from the NYS Division of Human Rights (NYSDHR) or any other administrative or judicial proceeding. The law also provides that an individual may bring private rights of action in court and the attorney general may commence an action in state court in NY for a violation of the retaliation provisions of the law.
This law took effect immediately upon signing on March 16, 2022.
Free confidential hotline
The law, which takes effect on July 14, 2022, establishes a free confidential hotline that will be run by the NYSDHR and is limited solely to claims of alleged sexual harassment and is intended to provide counsel to individuals with complaints of sexual harassment in the workplace. The NYSDHR will recruit attorneys experienced in handling and responding to complaints to provide pro bono assistance. The NYSDHR will also require that any sexual harassment materials that an employer provides to its employees also include information about the hotline.
The law also expressly forbids attorneys who provide assistance on the hotline from soliciting further representation of any individuals they advise through the hotline relating to the discussed sexual harassment complaint.
Other bills under consideration by the NYS Legislature
Several other bills have been passed by the NYS Senate and are under consideration by the NYS Assembly. These bills include potential changes to the statute of limitations for lawsuits, an extension of time to file a charge, prohibition of no rehire clauses, and no liquidated damages.
Employers should review the above changes and update their practices to comply and be on the lookout for updates from PMP regarding all potential changes.