Five Facts about New York's New Employment Protections

posted by Charles Joseph  |  Jul 5, 2019 09:50 AM [EST]  |  applies to New York

In June 2019, the New York Legislature passed major changes to the state's employment laws. The new and expanded provisions offer greater protections to victims of sexual harassment and workplace discrimination.

Here are five facts about how the new employment protections help workers.

1. It's easier to prove a hostile work environment

Under the old law, victims had to prove that workplace harassment was "severe or pervasive" to violate the law. That standard meant victims of hostile work environments had an even higher barrier to receive protections.

The new law eliminates the "severe or pervasive" standard, adopting a much broader definition of illegal workplace harassment. After the change, harassment that goes beyond "petty slights or trivial inconveniences" violates the law. 

In practice, that means it will be easier for victims to prove they were subjected to a hostile work environment because of harassment.

2. The new law covers workers not classified as employees

In many states, only traditionally defined employees receive protections under employment laws. New York's new law expands coverage to include many workers who are not classified as employees, including:

  • domestic workers

  • consultants

  • subcontractors

  • vendors

  • independent contractors and freelancers

The change greatly expands the number of people protected under the law. Freelancers in New York City also benefit from expanded payment protections under the Freelance Isn't Free Act

3. All employers are now covered

Previously, only employers with four or more employees were covered by the state's discrimination laws. But the new protections apply to all employers in New York, regardless of the number of employees. If an individual contracts a single worker, the new law defines them as an employer. 

The protections also cover labor unions and licensing and employment agencies. However, the law does not apply to the federal government.

This change means many more workers will benefit from discrimination and sexual harassment protections. 

4. The law expands damages for sexual harassment and discrimination

Under the new law, workers who successfully sue their employer for sexual harassment or discrimination can seek punitive damages. These damages are intended to punish the employer for allowing illegal harassment or discrimination when the employer showed negligence, recklessness, or consciously disregarded employee rights.

Victims can also receive attorney's fees, a change to the old law.

By expanding the available damages, the law offers greater remedies for victims of sexual harassment and discrimination. As under the prior law, victims can also receive emotional distress damages.

5. Courts must interpret the law liberally in favor of workers

The updated New York employment laws include requirements for courts hearing workplace sexual harassment and discrimination cases. Courts must interpret the law liberally in favor of workers. Courts must also narrowly interpret any exemptions to the law.

This increases the law's ability to protect workers by placing more power into the hands of victims. Similary, employers can no longer force victims of harassment or discrimination to sign non-disclosure agreements or force arbitration rather than court. 

The law passed the legislature on June 19, 2019. Governor Cuomo is expected to sign the law this summer. Some provisions go into effect immediately, while others begin after a 90 day or 180 day waiting period. Learn more about the New York State Human Rights Law changes, or visit Working Now and Then for more on New York employment protections or for a free consultation.

Charles Joseph has over two decades of experience in employment law and workplace discrimination. He is the founder of Working Now and Then and the founding partner of Joseph and Kirschenbaum, a firm that has recovered over $120 million for clients.

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