New York State Prohibits Discrimination Based on Reproductive Health Decisions

Author: Robert S. Teachout, XpertHR Legal Editor

November 15, 2019

New York has enacted a law that prohibits employers from discriminating against an employee based on the employee's or the employee's dependent's reproductive health choices. Most provisions of the bill became effective immediately upon signing November 8.

Under the new labor law, it is unlawful for an employer to discriminate or take retaliatory personnel actions against an employee with regard to pay, privileges or other terms or conditions of employment because of the employee's or the employee's dependent's reproductive health decisions. These include any decision to use or access a particular drug, device or medical service. Employers also are prohibited from requiring an employee to sign a waiver or other document purporting to deny an employee the right to make his or her own reproductive health care decisions.

The law includes a provision that prohibits employers from accessing an employee's personal information regarding the employee's or employee's dependent's reproductive health decision-making without the employee's prior written consent. Employers also must include a notice in their handbooks by January 7, 2020, of employees' rights and remedies under the law.

"No one should have to fear that they will lose their job or be demoted because of their own, private reproductive health decisions," said Senator Jen Metzger, principal sponsor of the bill. "Choosing if and when to have children, what prescription drugs to take or medical services to access, are decisions for individuals and their families and not their employers."

An employee alleging a violation of the law may file a civil lawsuit against the employer for reinstatement; actual damages, including attorney fees; and liquidated damages. An employer who has retaliated against an employee for exercising their rights under the new law is subject to separate civil penalties.

Earlier this year, New York City added "sexual and other reproductive health decisions" to the list of classes protected under the NYC Human Rights Law. The restriction covers "any decision by an individual to receive services … relating to sexual and reproductive health," including fertility treatments; STD prevention, testing and treatment; and family planning services.