Governor Cuomo Expands Rights in the Workplace
On October 21, 2015, Governor Andrew Cuomo signed into law multiple bills that expand protections for women in the workplace. The new laws intend to achieve pay equality and end pregnancy discrimination. The new laws affecting women in the workplace are as follows:
- Achieve Pay Equity. The new law requires an employer to offer proof of a “bona fide factor,” such as “education, training, [and] experience,” to defend any disparity in wages. Moreover, the new law restricts an employer’s ability to maintain secrecy over employee compensation information by preventing employers from “prohibit[ing] an employee from inquiring about, discussing or disclosing” employee wages. An employer, however, may place reasonable limitations on the time and location of such discussions.
- Protection Against Sexual Harassment. The new law protects all employees from sexual harassment in the workplace, regardless of employer size, by eliminating the 4-employer threshold under the Human Rights Law.
- Attorneys’ Fees for Sex Discrimination Claims. This new law permits the recovery of reasonable attorneys’ fees for prevailing plaintiffs in employment or credit discrimination cases based on sex. However, the new law also permits an employer to recover reasonable attorneys’ fees, but only where the employer can show the plaintiff’s claim were frivolous.
- End Family Status Discrimination. The new law adds familial status to the characteristics and groups of individuals protected from employment discrimination under the Human Rights Law. Familial status refers to the employee’s status as parents or guardians of children under the age of eighteen. Now, an employer may not inquire into or consider parental status when making employment decisions.
- End Pregnancy Discrimination. The new law requires employers to provide reasonable accommodations for pregnancy-related conditions, unless to do so would cause impose an “undue hardship” on the employer. Furthermore, the employer can require the employee to provide medical information verifying the pregnancy-related condition and the need for the accommodation.
Governor Cuomo also announced an executive action establishing the first-ever statewide regulations protecting transgender New Yorkers from discrimination, Gender Expression Non-Discrimination Act (“GENDA”). GENDA will amend the Human Rights Law to prohibit discrimination on the basis of gender identity in housing, employments, and public accommodations. GENDA will allow discriminated transgender people to file a complaint in court, either with the attorney general or with the State Division of Human Rights. A prevailing claimant may be awarded compensatory damages and levy fines and penalties of up to $100,000.
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