July 28, 2022 NYS Legislation Addressing Workplace Harassment and Discrimination
KEEPING YOU INFORMED…
We are writing to advise you of three pieces of legislation that amend the New York State Human Rights Law, and that were signed into law by Governor Hochul in an effort to further curb workplace harassment and discrimination.
The State Launches a Hotline For Workplace Sexual Harassment Complaints
The first law amends NY Executive Law § 295 by adding a new provision establishing a toll free, confidential hotline providing counseling and assistance to individuals with workplace sexual harassment complaints. The hotline will be operated by the State Division of Human Rights (“the Division”) during “regular business hours” (which is not defined). The provision further states that the Division will ensure public knowledge of the hotline by, among other things, working with the Department of Labor (“DOL”) “to ensure that information on the hotline is included in any materials employers must post or provide to employees regarding sexual harassment.”
Last week, Governor Hochul announced the launch of the new hotline. Individuals may use the free and confidential hotline, by calling 1-800-HARASS-3 (1-800-427-2773), to connect with pro-bono attorneys who can advise them regarding sexual harassment issues or how to submit a complaint.
The DOL is expected to issue guidance regarding the new law, including requirements regarding adding the hotline’s information to workplace sexual harassment training materials. When the DOL provides this guidance, we will let you know what to do and when and how you must do it. In the meantime, we recommend that you add the new hotline telephone number to your policies, workplace postings and training materials regarding workplace sexual harassment.
Definition of “Employer” Pursuant to the Human Rights Law Expanded
The second law amends NY Executive Law § 292 by revising the definition of “employer” to explicitly cover all State employees and employees of local governments or political subdivisions within the State.
Specifically, the law now provides that:
a) the State will be considered an employer of “any employee or official, including any elected official, of the New York State executive, legislature, or judiciary, including persons serving in any judicial capacity, and persons serving on the staff of any elected official in New York State;” and
b) “a city, county, town, village or other political subdivision of the state of New York shall be considered an employer of any employee or official, including any elected official, of such locality’s executive, legislature or judiciary, including persons serving in any local judicial capacity, and persons serving on the staff of any local elected official.”
The senators who sponsored this bill explained that their intent was to close a “loophole” pursuant to which courts have found that the State is not the employer of elected officials’ staff or of the attorneys who are working for State judges and to ensure that elected and appointed officials are not able to use this loophole to avoid responsibility for harassment.
Disclosure of an Employee’s Personnel File May Constitute Retaliation
The third law amends NY Executive Law § 296 to state that disclosing an employee’s personnel file because the person has exercised his/her/their right to, among other things, file a complaint, testify or assist in a proceeding pursuant to the Human Rights Law, constitutes prohibited retaliation. The disclosure does not constitute prohibited retaliation, however, if the disclosure is made in the course of commencing or responding to a complaint in any proceeding pursuant to the Human Rights Law or in any other civil or criminal action or other judicial or administrative proceeding as permitted by applicable law.
The law also authorizes the Attorney General to commence an action or proceeding in State Supreme Court if, upon information or belief, the Attorney General “is of the opinion that an employer has been, is, or is about to violate [the amendment’s provisions] regarding unlawful discriminatory retaliation.” The amendment provides that it does not limit the rights or remedies otherwise available by law to the Attorney General or to any other person who is authorized to bring an action pursuant to this section of the Human Rights Law.
We, therefore, encourage you to contact us if you are unsure whether the disclosure of an employee’s personnel file to a third party may constitute unlawful discriminatory retaliation in violation of the Human Rights Law, prior to disclosing the file.
If you have any questions regarding these changes to the Human Rights Law, or what to do (or not do) as a result of them, please contact Adam S. Ross or one of our other attorneys at 631-694-2300.
THIS MEMORANDUM IS MEANT TO ASSIST IN GENERAL UNDERSTANDING OF THE CURRENT LAW. IT IS NOT TO BE REGARDED AS LEGAL ADVICE. THOSE WITH PARTICULAR QUESTIONS SHOULD SEEK THE ADVICE OF COUNSEL.
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