On March 16, 2022, New York Governor Kathy Hochul signed a series of bills into law designed at combatting harassment and discrimination in the workplace. The governor has made addressing sexual harassment in the workplace part of her “Equity Agenda,” (which is part of the 2022 State of the State) and a number of other bills aimed at strengthening New York’s discrimination laws are already in motion.

Prohibition on the Release of Personnel Files as Retaliation

Senate Bill S5870 amends the New York State Human Rights Law’s (NYSHRL) definition of retaliation. Specifically, retaliation now includes revealing or releasing an employee’s personnel file, or any information contained therein, in response to an employee opposing an unlawful discriminatory practice. The bill makes clear that an employer may disclose an employee’s personnel file when necessary to respond to a complaint from the New York State Division of Human Rights or any other administrative or judicial proceeding. The bill also provides that individuals may bring private rights of action in court and the attorney general may commence an action in state court in New York for a violation of the retaliation provisions of the law. The bill took effect immediately upon signing on March 16, 2022.

Free Confidential Hotline

Senate Bill S812B establishes a free confidential hotline that will be operated by the New York State Division of Human Rights. The hotline is intended provide counsel to individuals with complaints of sexual harassment in the workplace. The Division of Human Rights will work to recruit attorneys experienced in handling and responding to complaints to provide pro bono assistance. The Division of Human Rights will also require that any sexual harassment materials an employer provides to its employees include information relating to the hotline. The law takes effect 120 days after it was signed into law.

Public Employers Subject to NYSHRL Coverage

Senate Bill S3395A clarifies that the definition of “employer” under the NYSHRL extends to public employers. The state of New York, or any city, county, town, village, or other political subdivision of the state of New York, is an employer of “any employee or official.” The bill further confirms that the state is an employer for the following categories of employees:

  • any elected official of the New York state executive, legislature, or judiciary;
  • state and local judges;
  • the staff of any elected official or judge;
  • any elected official of a locality’s executive, legislature, or judiciary; and
  • the staff of any local elected official or judge.

The bill took effect immediately on March 16, 2022.

Key Takeaways

While this legislative package includes only three bills focused on harassment and discrimination in the workplace, it is clear that the governor has made workplace equality a key focus. Employers may wish to review the above requirements to ensure their practices comply with the obligations articulated in the bills. Employers may also want to stay tuned for additional updates from New York as these bills start to play out and additional bills impacting the state’s anti-discrimination laws are expected to take form in the coming months.

Ogletree Deakins’ New York office will continue to monitor developments with respect to the implementation of the new laws and their impact on the workplace, and will post updates on the New York blog as additional information becomes available. Important information for employers is also available via the firm’s webinar and podcast programs.