New York State Governor Andrew Cuomo signed into law a number of bills intended to protect and advance the equality of women in New York State, particularly in the workplace.
The newly amended Sexual Harassment Protection law is now in effect. The result is that all employers, including those with fewer than four employees, can be liable for acts of sexual harassment under the state’s Human Rights Law. Additionally, the amendment permits successful plaintiffs to recover attorneys’ fees in employment or credit discrimination cases based on sex. If your company has not conducted supervisory staff training on how to identify and prevent harassment, discrimination and retaliation in the workplace, it should definitely be put on your 2016 calendar. Additionally, all supervisors and managers should know how to be more sensitive to, as well as how to handle, any complaints of harassment. By having a no-tolerance policy and conducting training to your supervisory staff, a company can diminish its exposure to expensive claims of harassment, discrimination and retaliation. It should be kept in mind that claims for retaliation are at an all-time high. Companies need to be pro-active in maintaining a workplace free of discrimination and harassment.
Another amendment to the New York State Human Rights Law protects employees against workplace discrimination on the basis of familial status. In particular, during the hiring process and while employed an employee who is a parent or guardian cannot have an adverse employment action taken against them such as not being hired, promoted, or given a raise because they have child care responsibilities. The goal is to ensure that familial responsibilities and status will not be a factor when making decisions in the workplace, and that employers will not make (and act upon) assumptions about the reliability or value of an employee with such responsibilities. Companies should assure that this policy is clearly communicated to their supervisory staff.
Pregnant workers protections have been expanded under NYS state law as well. The amendment requires employers to provide reasonable accommodations for employees with pregnancy-related conditions, unless the proposed accommodation would impose an undue hardship on the employer’s business. The nature of a pregnancy related condition for which such accommodation is required is now clarified to include any medically accepted condition (needing bathroom breaks, having to sit down, and needing water) that prevents a pregnant woman from fully performing job duties. Employers should review their policy regarding reasonable accommodations to ensure compliance with this law. All supervisory staff should be trained on how to respond to requests for accommodations. Supervisors should not be making decisions on whether to grant or not grant an accommodation without speaking to HR or upper management to assure non-discrimination and equality in dealing with these requests.
As a result of modifications to section 194 of the New York Labor, employees may not be punished for discussing their salaries, making it easier for wage disparities to become known. Additionally, such disparities are prohibited where the result is a woman paid less than a man when they perform equal work in a job that requires equal skill, effort and responsibility, when performed under similar working conditions. Exceptions are permitted where the payment differential is pursuant to the employee’s quality or quantity of work, and other bona-fide factors such as education, training, and experience that are job related and consistent with business necessity. Other states have enacted similar laws, and a recent Executive Order covering all federal contractors and subcontractors prohibits employers from disciplining any employees or applicants from discussing compensation including bonuses and other pay factors. If employers have not conducted a pay equity study these laws will make it very easy for employees to find and bring an action against an employer whose compensation practices are discriminatory, even if the discrimination is not intentional.
To ensure that your company is in compliance with the new legislation or for questions regarding training, compensation analyses or other workplace issues please contact firstname.lastname@example.org or call (516) 921.3400.