News

New NYS Laws Add Protection for Women in the Workplace

By Steven M. Berlin, Esq. and Kamilah Mitchell, Esq.

Five new laws that will have significant effects on employers throughout New York State take effect January 19, 2016. Signed by Governor Andrew Cuomo with some fanfare, they are further efforts designed to achieve pay equity for women, remove barriers to remedying discrimination, end family status discrimination, and protect women from pregnancy discrimination.

Equal Pay
In a bold move to truly achieve pay equality for women, New York Labor Law section 194 was amended to allow employees to openly inquire about, discuss, or disclose their wages with each other. However, employers are allowed to establish reasonable workday and workplace limitations on the times, place and manner for such discussion and inquiry, provided such limitations are established in a written policy and are consistent with the standards set forth by the Commissioner of Labor and all other state and federal laws.
Putting some meat on this amendment, New York Labor Law section 198 was amended to provide employees who have been discriminated against, based on the provisions set forth in section 194, with ability to recover up to 300% of the total amount of wages found to be due where there has been willful violation by the employer.

Amendments to the Human Rights Law
The New York Executive Law section 290 et seq., better known as New York State Human Rights Law, prohibits discrimination on the basis of "age, race, creed, color, national origin, sexual orientation, military status, sex, marital status or disability" in employment. Four of the new laws amend the Human Rights Law

More Expansive Definition of Employer
Generally the Human Rights Law covers employers with more than four employees. Now, because of an amendment to Executive Law section 292, with regard to sex discrimination based on sexual harassment, the law has been amended to subject all employers within New York State to liability; meaning as to this particular form of workplace discrimination, employers with four or less employees are no longer exempt from liability for sexual harassment claims.

Attorneys' Fees Recoverable
Executive Law section 297 has been amended to allow recovery of attorneys' fees in cases of employment or credit discrimination based on sex, provided the claimant has made a motion to request recovery of such fees.

Familial Discrimination
The list of protected characteristics under the state's Human Rights Law has been increased. An amendment to New York Executive Law section 296 makes it also unlawful to discriminate against a person on the basis of their familial status. Previously, familial status was only afforded protection in the areas of housing and credit.

Pregnancy Discrimination
As a result of an amendment to New York Executive Law section 292, the Human Rights Law now makes it an unlawful discriminatory practice to refuse to allow reasonable accommodations for pregnancy-related conditions.
The NY Department of Labor and the NY Division of Human Rights, have issued guidance for public comment regarding these new laws, with comments due on February 11, 2016.

Abrams, Gorelick, Friedman & Jacobson, LLP attorneys will be following for the issuance of final guidance. In the meantime, we are available to answer questions and assist your organization in complying with these new laws and other workplace issues.