As we start the new year, it is important to be aware that New York enacted laws in the past year which will impact employers in 2020 .
Here is a quick review of some of the legal changes in 2019 that affect New York employers:
- Increases to Employers’ Exposure to Discrimination Claims: A New York State bill passed last summer made it much easier for individuals to bring claims against their employer for discrimination. First, effective February 8, 2020, employers of all sizes (previously limited to employers with 4 or more employees) may be sued for discrimination or harassment. Additionally, this law made it easier for employees to bring claims of harassment. Specifically the law provides (1) that the main affirmative defense to a harassment claim (i.e. that an employer has a policy with a complaint procedure that the employee unreasonably failed to use) does not bar harassment claims under New York law, and (2) that an employee does not have to show that the harassment was at least severe or pervasive in order to bring a claim. These legislative changes also impact the contents and distribution of New York’s mandatory annual anti-harassment training and anti-harassment policies.
- Additional Classes Protected From Discrimination: New York added to the characteristics protected from discrimination, including gender identity or expression, sexual reproductive health choices, and an employee’s choice to wear natural hairstyles or religious clothing, attire, or facial hair.
- Pay Equity Laws: New York passed two key laws taking aim at pay inequity: The first restricted employers’ ability to seek or rely on an applicant’s salary history in determining whether to make a job offer or set a salary. The second prohibited employers from paying employees differently for equal work or “substantially similar work” performed under “similar working conditions” based on any characteristic protected under New York law.
- Restrictions on Pre-Employment Inquiries: New York State prohibited pre-employment testing for marijuana in most circumstances and pre-employment requests for salary information. Westchester banned pre-employment criminal background checks.
- Paid Voting Leave. As of April 2019, New York employers were required to give employees up to three hours of paid leave to vote in any election.
- Accommodations Obligations Expanded: New York also codified employers’ responsibility to accommodate (or better accommodate) employees who are lactating, seeking reasonable accommodations for disability or other protected reason, or who are the victims of domestic violence. Many employers will need to revise their policies and practices as a result.
- Restrictions on Confidentiality Agreements. As of 2020, employers in New York cannot require employees to sign agreements which restrict their ability to discuss facts regarding discrimination or harassment. This impacts many commonly used contracts, such as settlement agreements, intellectual property agreements and non-disclosure agreements.
- Expansion of Required Paid Sick Time: Westchester County now requires employer whose employees work in that county to provide those employees up to 40 hours a year of paid sick time. Previously, only employees working in New York City were required to be provided paid sick leave.
The foregoing is simply an overview of a handful of the important changes occurring in New York in the past year, and is not a comprehensive description of all employment law changes affecting New York employers. Please reach out us should you have any question about how any of these changes might impact your practices.