On March 16, New York Governor Kathy Hochul signed three new laws to further combat workplace harassment and discrimination. The three laws:
Establish a confidential hotline for complaints of workplace sexual harassment.
Clarify that the New York Human Rights Law covers New York State and all public sector employers.
Prohibit the release of personnel records as a retaliatory action against employees.
Three new laws designed to further combat workplace harassment and discrimination were signed into law by Gov. Kathy Hochul on March 16, 2022.
Confidential Hotline S.0812b/A.2035b
S.0812b/A.2035b establishes a toll-free confidential hotline to provide individuals with complaints of workplace sexual harassment counsel and assistance. The New York State Division of Human Rights will operate this hotline during regular business hours and disseminate information about it in order to ensure public awareness, including working with the New York Department of Labor to ensure that information on the hotline is included in any materials employers must post or provide to employees regarding sexual harassment.
The law further indicates that the Division will work with organizations representing attorneys, including but not limited to the New York State Bar Association, to recruit attorneys experienced in providing counsel related to sexual harassment matters who can provide pro bono assistance and counsel to individuals who contact the hotline. The law also indicates the hotline will comply with attorney ethical rules, and that attorneys may not solicit, or permit employees or agents of the attorneys to solicit on the attorney’s behalf, further representation of any individuals they advise through the hotline relating to the sexual harassment complaint that is discussed.
While the hotline purports to focus on complaints of sexual harassment, it is entirely possible that the hotline will receive complaints relating to other protected classifications under New York, and that the personnel operating the hotline will provide services to those individuals too.
This law is effective 120 days after it was signed into law, or July 14, 2022.
Human Rights Law Coverage S.3395b/A.2483b
S.3395b/A.2483b amends the definition of a covered employer under New York Executive Law Section 292 to state the following:
- the state of New York shall 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
- 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 position.
The law further indicates that it shall take effect immediately and shall be deemed to have been in full force and effect on and after the effective date of chapter 161 of the laws of 2019.
Release of Personnel Records Considered Retaliation S.5870/A.7101
S.5870/A.7101 prohibits the release of personnel records as a retaliatory action against employees who complain or assist in proceedings involving unlawful discriminatory practices by employers. Specifically, the law amends New York Executive Law 296 to state the following:
“Retaliation may include, but is not limited to, disclosing an employee’s personnel files because he or she has opposed any practices forbidden under this article or because he or she has filed a complaint, testified or assisted in any proceeding under this article, except where such disclosure is made in the course of commencing or responding to a complaint in any proceeding under this article or any other civil or criminal action or other judicial or administrative proceeding as permitted by applicable law.”
The law further empowers the attorney general to commence an action or proceeding in the supreme court of the state of New York, if, upon information or belief, the attorney general is of the opinion that an employer has been, is, or is about to violate the provisions regarding unlawful discriminatory retaliation.
The legislature justifies this law by claiming “as demonstrated by recent events, this retaliation frequently appears in the form of a leaking of personnel files with the intent to disparage or discredit a victim or witness of discrimination in the workplace.”
This law is effective immediately.
Action Items for Employers
Employers are well advised to review their policies and training to ensure compliance with these new laws. Notably, there are more than a dozen additional laws that would affect employers if enacted that are currently working their way through the New York State legislature. Our employment and labor team is monitoring these bills and expects that a number of them will become law by the end of the legislative session in June. We will continue to report on these bills when and if they are enacted.
For more information or immediate guidance, contact: