On August 12, 2019, Governor Cuomo signed legislation that overhauls the New York State Human Rights Law. The following are key changes employers need to know about right now, along with their effective dates.
Effective immediately: Employers must provide their written sexual harassment prevention policy to employees at hire, in English and an employee’s primary language. Employers must provide the policy again at their annual sexual harassment prevention training.
October 11, 2019: The “severe and pervasive” standard for hostile work environment claims is eliminated.
Employers may be held liable to non-employees (including contractors, subcontractors, vendors, and consultants) who are subject to any type of unlawful discrimination or harassment in the workplace.
Alleged victims will be able to pursue punitive damages against a private employer that engages in unlawful discrimination.
Employers no longer may rely on the defense that the victim did not first report the discrimination/harassment (attorneys will recognize this as the U.S. Supreme Court’s Faragher-Ellerth defense).
When a claim for any type of unlawful discrimination or harassment is settled, confidentiality is available only if the claimant requests it.
Prevailing party attorneys’ fees will become mandatory for employment discrimination claims that result in a final order after a public hearing. In order for an employer to recover attorneys’ fees, however, it must establish that the claim was frivolous.
February 8, 2020: NY Exec Law § 292 is amended to cover all New York employers, regardless of size.
August 12, 2020: The statute of limitations – or deadline – to bring a sexual harassment claim before the NY Division of Human Rights is extended to 3 years from the date of the harassment.
Employers, beware that many of these changes apply to claims filed only on or after the effective date of the particular provision. Stated differently, employees who currently possess claims can wait to file – if they choose – once the more expansive hostile work environment standard becomes effective. This is a strategic game-changer for claimants and creates a far more onerous burden on New York employers.
This is an area of law that seems to be ever-changing in New York. If you’re an employer with questions about your obligations, contact us. The attorneys at The Coppola Firm would be glad to assist you.