New York Legislation Addresses Sexual Harassment in Small Companies, Reasonable Accommodations for Pregnant Workers

The New York Legislature passed two bills in the first half of 2015 that amended the New York State Human Rights Law (NYSHRL) to provide additional protections for pregnant employees and employees who have experienced sexual harassment in the workplace. One bill expands the scope of the NYSHRL’s prohibition on sexual harassment to include all employers in the state, regardless of size. The other bill addresses pregnant workers’ need for reasonable accommodations during pregnancy and after childbirth. We are hopeful that these bills will help New York City employees assert their rights against workplace harassment and discrimination.

Sexual Harassment

Many employment statutes only apply to employers who exceed a threshold number of employees. The NYSHRL defines an “employer” as a person, company, or other organization with four or more employees. N.Y. Exec. L. § 292(5). According to Assemblywoman Sandy Galef, D-Ossining, over 60 percent of private employers in the state have fewer than four employees. Those employees are effectively barred from stating claims under the NYSHRL.

One of the new bills, A.5360/S.2, amends the NYSHRL’s definition of “employer” to state that the four-employee threshold does not apply in claims for sexual harassment, which is defined as a form of discrimination based on sex. Assemblywoman Galef was the sponsor of A.5360. The bill opens the possibility of relief in sexual harassment claims under the NYSHRL for employees of smaller New York businesses. It does not change the definition of “employer” for any other type of claim.

Reasonable Accommodations for Pregnant Employees

Federal law prohibits employment discrimination based on “pregnancy, childbirth, or related medical conditions,” including it in the definition of sex discrimination. 42 U.S.C. § 2000e(k). The NYSHRL prohibits an employer, defined as one with four or more employees, from requiring an employee to take a leave of absence in most situations. N.Y. Exec. L. § 296(1)(g).

A common type of adverse treatment pregnant workers may encounter is an employer’s refusal to provide “reasonable accommodations” to allow the individual to continue working without difficulty. This might include additional restroom breaks, light duty, or lifting restrictions. Federal law does not specifically require employers to provide such accommodations, although some courts have begun to explore whether the Americans with Disabilities Act might have some applicability. New York City law, however, expressly requires employers to refuse a reasonable accommodation, provided that the employer knows about the pregnancy and that the accommodation will allow the employee to “satisfy the essential requisites of the job.” N.Y.C. Admin. Code §§ 8-102(18), 8-107(22).

The NYSHRL will have similar requirements regarding reasonable accommodations for pregnant employees, thanks to A.4272/S.8. The bill amends the definition of “reasonable accommodation,” which previously only applied to employees with disabilities, to include pregnancy-related conditions. N.Y. Exec. L. § 292(21-e). In order to qualify for an accommodation, the employee must notify the employer of the pregnancy and provide medical information, which may be kept confidential, to allow the employer to verify the accommodation. Failure by the employer to provide an accommodation when warranted constitutes an unlawful discriminatory practice.

The experienced and skilled employment discrimination attorneys at Phillips & Associates fight for the rights of employees and job seekers in the New York City area in claims under federal, state, and city laws. Contact us today online or at (212) 248-7431 to schedule a free and confidential consultation to see how we can assist you.

More Blog Posts:

Recent Lawsuits, Media Coverage Spotlight Sexual Harassment in the Tech Industry, New York Employment Attorney Blog, June 19, 2015

U.S. Department of Justice Files Pregnancy Discrimination Lawsuit Against School Board, New York Employment Attorney Blog, May 8, 2015

Many Employers Continue to Express Reluctance to Hire Women Who Might Become Pregnant, Despite Clear Laws on the Subject, New York Employment Attorney Blog, April 21, 2015

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