March 24, 2022 • Jamie Santos
Category: Legal Updates
On March 16, 2022, New York State Governor Kathy Hochul signed three bills into law amending and expanding harassment and discrimination protections under the New York State Human Rights Law (NYSHRL). New York State employers should remain on high alert for additional expansions to come and be ready to review and consult their anti-discrimination and harassment policies and practices to comply with the new protections as they become effective.
SB 5870/AB 7101 – Retaliation for Releasing Personnel Files
Effective immediately, Senate Bill 5870/Assembly Bill 7101 amends the NYSHRL and its definition of retaliation to include “disclosing an employee’s personnel files because he or she has opposed any practices forbidden under (the NYSHRL) or because he or she has filed a complaint, testified or assisted in any proceeding.”
Notably, this amendment does not define what is considered a “personnel file” or “disclosure” of such files. The legislative history, however, reveals the the new amendments come as a direct response to the aftermath of the investigations into sexual harassment allegations against former Governor Andrew Cuomo, during which the personnel files of an accuser were leaked to the press. In essence, the law prohibits an employer from revealing performance issues or misconduct by an employee who has complained of discrimination and harassment to the media or public.
SB S3395A/AB A2483 – Definition of Employer for Elected Officials
Also effective immediately, S3395A amends the definition of “employer” under the NYSHRL. Previously, various New York courts agreed with arguments from the attorney general that the state is not the direct employer of either staff or elected officials and deferred to the federal Title VII of the Civil Rights Act, which excludes elected officials and their staff from protections against harassment. In an effort expand equal protections to both public and private employees, the amendment provides that the State of New York is considered the employer of elected and appointed officials and their staff.
SB 812B/AB 2035B – Workplace Sexual Harassment Hotline
Lastly, Governor Hochul signed into law another amendment to NYSHRL that establishes a toll-free and confidential hotline for employees with complaints of workplace sexual harassment, which takes effect on July 14, 2022. The hotline will be operated by the New York State Division of Human Rights during regular business hours and will offer counseling and assistance to individuals.
On the tail of these new laws, the New York Senate has passed additional anti-discrimination amendments to the NYSHRL that will now head to the Assembly for review. Employers should be ready for further expansions and take time to revisit their current policies. For questions, contact Stokes Wagner.
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THIS DOCUMENT PROVIDES A GENERAL SUMMARY AND IS FOR INFORMATIONAL/EDUCATIONAL PURPOSES ONLY. IT IS NOT INTENDED TO BE COMPREHENSIVE, NOR DOES IT CONSTITUTE LEGAL ADVICE. PLEASE CONSULT WITH COUNSEL BEFORE TAKING OR REFRAINING FROM TAKING ANY ACTION.