New Laws Addressing Sexual Harassment, Pregnancy Discrimination, and Other Employment Issues Take Effect in New York

A wide range of laws, collectively known as the Women’s Equality Act, is scheduled to take effect in January 2016. The New York State Legislature passed numerous bills in 2015, and Governor Cuomo signed them on October 21. Among the new laws are three that are of particular interest to our practice. One bill amends the New York State Human Rights Law (NYSHRL), N.Y. Exec. L. § 290 et seq., to expand the court system’s ability to address sexual harassment complaints. Another bill requires employers to provide reasonable accommodations to pregnant employees. Finally, a bill adds “familial status” as a protected category under the anti-discrimination provisions of the NYSHRL.

Sexual Harassment

The NYSHRL only applies, in most situations, to employers with four or more employees. N.Y. Exec. L. § 292(5). This means that employees of a business or individual with three or fewer total employees may not seek remedies for employment discrimination, sexual harassment, and other unlawful employment practices.

A bill passed by the New York State Senate on January 12, 2015 as S. 2, and by the Assembly as A. 5360 on May 5, amends the NYSHRL’s definition of “employer.” It expands the application of the NYSHRL to all employers, regardless of number of employees, but only for sexual harassment claims. Claims for other types of discrimination are still limited to employers with four or more employees.

Accommodations for Pregnant Employees

Federal, state, and city laws prohibit discrimination against an employee because of pregnancy, recent childbirth, or medical conditions directly related to either. These laws address negative actions taken against an employee, but federal and state laws tend to fall short with regard to an employer’s duties to accommodate a pregnant employee’s needs.

New York City has led the nation in many ways on the issue of reasonable accommodations for pregnancy and childbirth. Examples of accommodations include additional restroom breaks, access to drinking water, opportunities to sit down, and lifting restrictions. A 2013 New York City law, the NYC Pregnant Workers Fairness Act, addresses these concerns.

New York’s S. 8, which passed the Assembly as A. 4272, amends the NYSHRL’s definition of “reasonable accommodation,” N.Y. Exec. L. § 292(21-e), to include “a pregnancy-related condition,” and it adds a new subsection defining “pregnancy-related condition.” It also amends the provision regarding an employer’s duty to provide reasonable accommodations, id. at § 296(3), to add pregnancy-related conditions, and to require an employee requesting an accommodation to “cooperate in providing medical or other information that is necessary to verify the existence of the…pregnancy-related condition.”

Familial Status

The NYSHRL prohibits discrimination based on a wide range of factors, including sex, which includes pregnancy discrimination and sexual harassment. It defines “familial status” to include being pregnant, having a child, or being in the process of obtaining custody of a minor child, N.Y. Exec. L. § 292(26), but it does not include “familial status” as a category protected against employment discrimination. S. 4 / A. 7317 amends the NYSHRL’s employment anti-discrimination provisions, id. at § 296(1), to include familial status.

The knowledgeable and experienced pregnancy discrimination attorneys at Phillips & Associates advocate for employees, former employees, and job seekers in the greater New York City area, helping them assert claims under city, state, and federal laws. Contact us online or at (212) 248-7431 today to schedule a free and confidential consultation with a member of our team.

More Blog Posts:

New York Legislation Addresses Sexual Harassment in Small Companies, Reasonable Accommodations for Pregnant Workers, New York Employment Attorney Blog, June 25, 2015

Several States Follow New York’s Lead in Extending Sexual Harassment Protections to Unpaid Interns, New York Employment Attorney Blog, November 5, 2014

Proposed Legislation Would Increase Protections Against Pregnancy Discrimination, New York Employment Attorney Blog, May 22, 2012

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