New York Changes Its Employment Laws… Again

At the completion of the 2019 session, the New York State legislature passed not just one but several bills that will have a significant impact on many New York employers – particularly those located outside of New York City.  Several of the new bills impacting the State parallel existing “employee-friendly” laws already in place in the City.

One new bill impacting the State now allows plaintiffs to recover punitive damages (damages awarded to an injured party to punish the reckless actions of a defendant) in claims of employment discrimination. Furthermore, if an employer is found to have engaged in unlawful discrimination, a plaintiff may be awarded attorney’s fees. This is a large departure from previous New York law which, until this year, neither authorized punitive damages for any kind of discrimination claims nor permitted an award attorney’s fees for any discrimination claim (with the exception of sex-based discrimination claims).

Additionally, the New York legislature has instituted a state-wide salary history inquiry ban. This means that during the job hiring process, a private employer cannot ask an applicant about prior salaries received by that individual. Furthermore, an employer cannot refuse to interview, hire, or retaliate in any away against an applicant or current employee based on his/her refusal to provide their salary history, or based on his/her current salary. Notably, the new law does not prevent an applicant or current employee from voluntarily disclosing their salary history. Several differences exist between this new bill and already existing laws relating to salary disclosure. For example, unlike similar laws in New York City, this new bill protects both applicants and current employees, not just applicants.

Finally, and most relevant to a case which gathered attention for our firm in a 2019  article in the New York Times (see link below), the New York Legislature has introduced legislation to expand the term “race” in regard to race discrimination. The term now includes “traits historically associated with race,” including “hair texture and protective hairstyles.” This means that an individual may sue for race-based discrimination if an employer has a policy in place that would disallow an individual from expressing his/her culture through the way he/she wears their hair.

What can an employer do to make sure they comply with these new laws? It is important that private employers in New York take time to review these new changes with counsel, review practices already in place (e.g., interviewing/hiring practices), review dress codes and other appearance codes, and keep up to date on important documentation and notices. Employers and employees should also continue to keep an eye on current employment law in the state as the laws continue to evolve to meet today’s social and economic needs.

To read about all the changes coming to New York employment law and when such changes take effect see:  To read about our contribution to the fight against hair related race discrimination, as referenced above, see: New York Times Article Link