On March 16, 2022, New York Governor Kathy Hochul signed into law three amendments to the State’s workplace anti-discrimination and anti-harassment laws, expanding harassment and discrimination protections under the New York State Human Rights Law (“NYSHRL”).
Retaliation for Releasing Personnel Files
Effective immediately, the NYSHRL’s definition of retaliation was amended to include “disclosing an employee’s personnel files because he or she has opposed any practices forbidden under the NYSHRL or because he or she has filed a complaint, testified or assisted in any proceeding.” However, employers may still disclose or release an employee’s personnel file if the disclosure is made in the course of commencing or responding to a complaint in any civil or criminal action or other judicial or administrative proceeding.
Workplace Sexual Harassment Hotline
In addition, the NYSHRL has been amended to require the New York State Division of Human Rights (“NYSDHR”) to establish a toll-free and confidential hotline for employees with complaints of workplace sexual harassment, effective July 14, 2022. The hotline will be operated by the NYSDHR during regular business hours and will offer counseling and assistance to individuals.
State and Public Employers Subject to Human Rights Law
Finally, the definition of the term “employer” has been expanded under the NYSHRL to include public employers, particularly the State of New York, and its cities, counties, towns, villages, and other political subdivisions. The bill further clarifies that the NYSHRL protections extend to New York employees or officials, including elected officials, of the executive, legislature, or judiciary, including persons serving in any judicial capacity, and persons serving on the staff of any elected official.
Key Takeaways for Employers
In light of these recent amendments, employers should revisit and revise their policies, if necessary. Employers should consider revising any policies on non-retaliation to include the expanded definition of prohibited retaliatory actions. This should include a policy that governs access to and disclosure of employee information and personnel files. New York employers must proceed with caution when considering whether to release an employee’s personnel file
Further, employers should be aware that the New York Senate has passed additional anti-discrimination amendments to the NYSHRL that will now head to the Assembly for review. Employers should be ready for further expansions of the law. We will continue monitoring developments in this area and provide updates as new information becomes available. Should you have any questions, please contact ALG.