By Carla Hogan, Esq.
On the close of the 2019 session, the NYS Legislature passed sweeping changes to the State’s discrimination laws that will make it easier for employees and outside contractors who interact with those employees, to bring and sustain discrimination claims. Expected for immediate signing by Governor Cuomo, the bill provides the following:
- Expands coverage from over four employee companies to all employers regardless of size – effective 180 after enactment
- Allows claims for hostile work environments that involve misconduct rather than the higher standard of pervasive and severe conduct and extends the hostile work environment claims to conduct based on any protected characteristic, not just sex—effective 60 days after enactment to claims filed on or after that date
- Eliminates the requirement that an employee first use the company’s policy to bring a claim before filing an action essentially permitting claims where the employer had no knowledge prior to filing that the employee claimed of discrimination—effective 60 days after enactment to claims filed on or after that date
- Makes clear that employers are also liable for any harassment of outside parties such as contractors, consultants, etc. by its employees where the employer knew or should have known of the conduct and failed to stop it
- Mandatory attorneys’ fees and ability to recover punitive damages for claims filed with the NYS Division of Human Rights
- Additional sexual harassment training and written procedures requirements
- Extends the one-year statute of limitations for claims filed with the State Division of Human Rights to three years – effective one year after enactment
- Prohibits mandatory arbitration clauses for any discrimination claims
Employers should review their current policies and expect to make significant changes to those policies and their implementation. Employers are encouraged to consider liability insurance containing the riders for employment practices to insure anticipated higher costs of litigation and settlement.