This spring Gov. Kathy Hochul (D) has signed into law three bills that amend the New York State Human Rights Law:
- Retaliation. Senate Bill S.5870 expands the definition of retaliation under the NYSHRL. Retaliation is now defined to include disclosing an employee’s personnel file because the employee opposed any practices forbidden under the NYSHRL, filed a complaint, or testified or assisted in any proceeding under the NYSHRL, unless the disclosure is made in connection with a proceeding under the NYSHRL, or any other judicial or administrative proceeding. Before this amendment took effect, the only way the anti-retaliation provisions of the NYSHRL could be enforced was through a private action brought by the employee. But the amendment gives the Attorney General the power to bring an action or proceeding if he or she believes that an employer has retaliated, is retaliating, or is going to retaliate against an employee. This amendment took effect March 16.
- Definition of “employer.” Assembly Bill A.2483B amends the definition of “employer” under the NYSHRL. “Employer” now explicitly includes the state and all public employers. The legislation further clarifies that the state and local entities are considered to be the direct employers of elected and appointed officials and their staff for NYSHRL purposes. This amendment took effect March 16.
- Sexual harassment hotline. Assembly Bill A.2035B amends the NYSHRL to establish a toll-free confidential hotline for workplace sexual harassment complaints. The hotline will be established by the Department of Human Resources and will connect complainants with experienced pro bono attorneys who will help make them aware of their legal rights and advise them on the specifics of their cases. The hotline is to be accessible, at a minimum, Monday through Friday from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. This amendment will take effect July 14.
In addition to the above legislation, several bills are pending and may become law in the near future:
- Nondisclosure agreements in sexual harassment, discrimination cases. On March 1, the Let Survivors Speak Act, Senate Bill S.738, passed the state Senate and was delivered to the Assembly. The Act prohibits any settlement or other resolution of a claim involving sexual harassment or any other form of unlawful discrimination from including a requirement that the plaintiff pay the defendant liquidated damages in the event that the plaintiff violates a nondisclosure agreement. Senate Bill S.738 would invalidate any release of claims that requires a plaintiff to pay liquidated damages or forfeit all or part of the settlement amount if the plaintiff violates the confidentiality or non-disparagement provisions of the agreement. In addition, if the agreement contains an affirmative statement, assertion, or disclaimer that the employee was not subjected to discrimination, harassment, or retaliation, the release would be invalidated.
- Ban on no-rehire clauses. On March 1, Senate Bill S.766 passed the state Senate and was delivered to the Assembly. This bill would invalidate any release of claims where the agreement includes a no-rehire clause. Perhaps most critically, if a release is rendered unenforceable under this proposed law, the employer would still be bound by all other provisions of the settlement agreement, including the obligation to provide the full separation or settlement payment to the employee.
- On March 1, Senate Bill S.566A and Senate Bill S.849A, proposing extensions of the statutes of limitation under the NYSHRL, passed the Senate and was delivered to the Assembly. Senate Bill S.566A would increase the time for reporting discrimination to the NYSDHR from the current one year to three years. Senate Bill S.849A would extend the statute of limitations on court claims from the current three years to six years.
We will keep you updated on the status of these bills.