[New York] Sweeping reforms to State discrimination laws

On the last day of its legislative session, the New York State Senate and Assembly passed sweeping reforms overhauling the New York’s anti-discrimination laws. Once enacted, the amendments will impact every workplace in New York, JD Supra reports.

Following expansive sexual harassment reforms passed last year (previously reported by JD Supra), New York businesses and employers may expect further wide-ranging amendments under Senate Bill S6577. The bill will continue the state’s ongoing implementation of more stringent anti-harassment and anti-discrimination laws. Governor Andrew Cuomo is expected to sign the new bill without delay.

What the legislation entails

This is an omnibus bill to amend different provisions of the New York State Human Rights Law (NYSHRL), the Civil Practice Law and Rules, the General Obligations Law and the New York Labor Law. These amendments make significant changes to New York’s already expansive workplace harassment laws. The bill specifically provides the following:

  • Expansion Of Coverage Under The NYSHRL To Small Employers
  • Lowering The Standard For Harassment Claims
  • Extension Of Harassment Protections To Non-Employees
  • Additional Damages For Employment Harassment
  • Prohibition Of Confidential Settlements And Mandatory Arbitration Agreements
  • Expansion Of Sexual Harassment Training And Policy Requirements
  • Extended Statute Of Limitations
  • Regular Updating Of Model Policy And Training

What New York employers need to do now

These reforms will affect every employer and business in the state. Employers must ensure they are prepared for strengthened laws aimed at targeting harassment in the workplace. Lowering the high bar of proving “severe and pervasive” behaviour makes it easier for employees to bring harassment claims in court. Employers use of the Faragher-Ellerth defence will be limited. Taken together with punitive damages and attorneys’ fee awards, there is the expectation of an increase in workplace harassment lawsuits.

It is essential to take measures to guarantee workplaces are free from discrimination and harassment. Existing arbitration agreements, standard settlement agreements, or any contract with employees that requires confidentiality may need to be revised. Employers must also ensure they take the necessary steps to keep up with the additional administrative requirements associated with the mandatory sexual harassment policy and training.