Protecting and Furthering Equality in New York State

On October 21, 2015, Governor Andrew M. Cuomo signed legislation designed to help achieve pay equity, strengthen protections for domestic violence victims, and end sexual harassment and pregnancy discrimination in all workplaces. 

These new laws aim to:

  • Achieve Pay Equity: This bill (S. 1 / A. 6075) would strengthen New York State law to truly prohibit employers from paying women less than men for performing the same work. The bill eliminates a loophole in the current law that allows employers to prohibit employees from discussing their salaries under threat of termination or suspension. Specifically, the bill would allow employees to discuss their wages with each other. Further, the bill increases the amount of damages available to an employee if an employer willfully violates the law.
     
  • Protect victims of sexual harassment: This bill (S. 2 / A. 5360) protects all employees from sexual harassment in the workplace regardless of the size of the employer. Currently, the definition of “employer” excludes employers with fewer than four employees, thus prohibiting individuals from filing harassment complaints with the Division of Human Rights against those employers. This new law expands the definition of “employer” to cover all employers within New York in sexual harassment cases so that an employee of any business can file a workplace sexual harassment complaint.
     
  • Remove Barriers to Remedying Discrimination: This bill (S. 3 / A.7189) allows successful plaintiffs to recover attorneys’ fees in employment or credit discrimination cases based on sex. This law enables victims, most of whom are women, to have the opportunity to vindicate their rights and be made whole in cases where they prevail. Under existing New York State law, plaintiffs cannot recover attorney fees at trial for employment discrimination cases, making it costly to bring a case.
     
  • End Family Status Discrimination: This bill (S. 4 / A. 7317) prohibits employment discrimination based on familial status. Currently, New York State law only prohibits discrimination based on familial status in the areas of housing and credit, however, employees often suffer from stereotypes relative to their status as parents or guardians of children under the age of eighteen. Women have been most affected by stereotyped views of parents in the work place and are less likely to be recommended for hire or promoted. This new law prohibits employment agencies, licensing agencies, or labor organizations from discriminating against workers based on their familial status.
     
  • Protect Victims of Domestic Violence from Housing Discrimination: This bill (S. 5 / A. 6354-B) prohibits landlords from discriminating against victims of domestic violence. Currently, under New York State law an individual could be denied housing on the basis of his or her status as a victim of domestic violence. This new bill protects victims of domestic violence from discrimination when they attempt to rent or lease housing, and provide them with an affirmative defense in eviction proceedings and a private right of action. Additionally, this bill would create a Task Force to study the impact that source of income has on access to housing.
     
  • Protect Women from Pregnancy Discrimination: This bill (S. 8 / A. 4272) requires employers to provide reasonable accommodations for pregnant employees. Some pregnancies can result in medical conditions requiring certain accommodations within the workplace and current protections for pregnant women are confusing and have been misinterpreted. This new law clarifies that employers must perform a reasonable accommodation analysis for pregnant employees.

In accordance with these laws, New York State Department of Labor (DOL) and the New York State Division of Human Rights (DHR) were directed to make training available to employers to help them develop policies, procedures, and their own training to address and eliminate discrimination and harassment in the workplace. The topics to be addressed include, but are not limited to, issues relating to pregnancy, familial status, pay equity and sexual harassment.  

The guidance can be found at: http://dhr.ny.gov/anti-discrimination-harassment-guidance. 

For more information on your rights as an employee, please review the following materials:
Download PdfBasic Guide to Employment Discrimination
Download PdfDomestic Violence & Employment
Download PdfPregnancy Discrimination in the Workplace  
Download PdfSexual Harassment  

To learn how to file a complaint, click here: http://dhr.ny.gov/how-file-complaint