Why New York Employers Need to Get Ready for Changes

NYC imageNew York may be leading the way when it comes to new laws affecting the workplace. Today, the Women’s Equality Act takes effect in New York State, an employment law aiming to increase opportunities and benefits for women in the workplace.

Among the changes, New York employers are prohibited from discriminating based on familial status. Employers also may be required to provide reasonable accommodations to employees affected by pregnancy, childbirth or related medical conditions unless it would create an undue hardship. Additionally, employers of all sizes are now prohibited from engaging in sexual harassment/sex discrimination under the New York State Human Rights Law (NYSHRL) and may be liable for an increased amount of damages and attorney’s fees in sex discrimination lawsuits.

Meanwhile, the Women’s Equality Act strengthens the state’s equal pay law and clarifies the circumstances when a wage differential is permitted. It also bans an employer from disciplining or terminating employees based on their discussion of current wages or salaries. In addition, the Act allows successful claimants to recover increased damages.

However, that’s not all. The Empire State and the Big Apple have more than half a dozen new laws bolstering the rights of employees and providing workplace protections. As a result, New York employers may be at risk for significant fines and penalties if they fail to comply.

Haynes & Boone employment law partner Jason Habinsky says of the changes, “While emerging as a trailblazer with respect to the protection of employee rights, New York, at the same time, has also become a “Snooze or Lose” state. What that means is that if employers do not keep pace with the rapid-fire developments at both the state and local level, they may already have violated the law.”

To ensure your company doesn’t snooze, here are more key legal developments in New York State and New York City.

New York State

1. Breastfeeding Rights

Effective January 1, 2016, under amendments to the Breastfeeding Mothers’ Bill of Rights, employees are permitted to take reasonable unpaid breaks from work to pump breast milk for up to three years after childbirth and an employer may not discriminate against women who express breast milk at work. An employer also is required to make reasonable efforts to provide a room or other private location for a woman to express breast milk.

2. Minimum Wage

Effective December 31, 2015, the New York minimum wage is now $9.00 per hour. Further, minimum wage increases also went into effect for tipped workers ($7.50) and employees at certain fast food chain restaurants.

3. Transgender Protections

Governor Andrew Cuomo has proposed regulations providing employment protections to transgender individuals under the NYSHRL.

New York City

1. NYC Bans Caregiver Discrimination

New York City recently amended its Human Rights Law to prohibit discrimination based on an employee’s actual or perceived status as a caregiver or one who provides direct and ongoing care for a minor child or a care recipient. A “care recipient” is an individual with a disability who relies on the caregiver to provide medical care or meet one’s daily needs.

2. Ban on Using Credit Information in Employment Decisions

Effective September 3, 2015, the Stop Credit Discrimination in Employment Act made it an unlawful discriminatory act for most employers to ask about a prospective or current employee’s credit history and/or use this information in making any hiring or employment decisions.

3. Ban the Box

Effective October 27, 2015, under the New York City Fair Chance Act, an employer may not ask about an applicant’s criminal history including a pending arrest or conviction record during the hiring process until a conditional job offer has been extended. The new law also prohibits searches of public records and consumer reports containing criminal background information until an employment offer has been made.

4. Guidance on Gender Identity Discrimination

New York City recently released comprehensive guidance for employers on gender identity discrimination under the New York City Human Rights Law addressing various issues such as sex stereotyping, grooming standards, employee benefits, employee rest rooms, preferred names and pronouns, harassment, reasonable accommodations and retaliation.

5. Paid Parental Leave

Effective January 1, 2016, both union and non-union New York City workers may be entitled to paid parental leave which will include 100% of the employee’s salary, and may be combined with existing leave under sick days and vacation days to obtain a maximum of 12 weeks. The policy covers maternity, paternity, adoption and foster care leave.

Which New York law will have the biggest impact on employers? Share your thoughts with a comment below.

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