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Employment Practices: New Gender-Equity Laws Take Effect in NY in 2016


Employment Practices New Gender-Equity Laws Take Effect in NY in 2016Last month, New York Governor Andrew Cuomo signed into law a series of bills that expand the state’s gender-based employment protections. The bills are part of a legislative package, known more commonly as the Women’s Equality Act, and take effect on January 19, 2016. Here is a brief rundown of each law to help employers in New York remain in compliance.

Expanded Equal Pay Protections

The first bill in a series of four principal amendments to New York Labor Law (NYLL) section 194 makes it more difficult for companies to justify pay inequities between similarly situated male and female employees. It narrows the conditions under which an employer may pay comparable male and female employees differently. Employees are prohibited from being paid a lower wage than another employee of the opposite sex working in the same establishment, when they perform equal work in a job that requires equal skill, effort, and responsibility, and that is performed under similar working conditions. Exceptions to this mandate are permitted where payment is pursuant to a differential based on seniority and merit systems, systems in which an employee’s earnings are measured by quality or quantity of production, and bona-fide factors such as education, training, and experience that are job-related and consistent with business necessity.

The second amendment allows employees to pursue gender-based pay disparity claims based upon compensation earned by employees working at different facilities, so long as such facilities are within the same region.

The third amendment provides that employers may not prohibit an employee “from inquiring about, discussing, or disclosing the wages of such employee or another employee.” Employers may maintain a written policy imposing reasonable limits on “the time, place and manner for inquiries about, discussion of, or the disclosure of wages.”

The fourth amendment stipulates that for willful violations of NYLL section 194, an aggrieved employee may recover liquidated damages equal to 300% of the unpaid wages owed to him or her. This is triple the amount employees may recover for other types of violations under the New York Labor Law.

Accommodations for Pregnant Employees

This piece of legislation is similar to current New York City law, and expands protection for pregnant workers under state law. State law will require employers to provide reasonable accommodations for employees with pregnancy-related conditions, unless the proposed accommodation would impose an undue hardship on the employer’s business.

Ban on “Familial Status” Discrimination

This bill adds “familial status” to the list of protected classes under the state’s anti-discrimination law, placing an individual’s family status on equal footing with race, age, religion, and other statutorily protected characteristics. By adding this status to protected classes, employers cannot discriminate against an employee, for example, because of his/her status as a parent or because he or she has a child. The law does make clear, however, that employers are not required to provide reasonable accommodations based on an employee’s “familial status.”

Discrimination Cases

The Women’s Equality Agenda also includes the Remove Barriers to Remedying Discrimination bill, which allows successful plaintiffs to recover attorneys’ fees in employment or credit-discrimination cases based on sex.

Sexual Harassment Claims Can Be Brought Against “All Employers”

For years, the state’s anti-discrimination law has only protected individuals employed by entities with four or more employees. The package of bills expands this coverage, providing that sexual harassment claims may be asserted against “all employers,” regardless of their size. This means that all small businesses will now need to develop comprehensive anti-harassment policies, and train employees on the same.

It’s important for employers to familiarize themselves with their new obligations and consult with an attorney to determine whether and how the new laws affect their particular organizations. Employees are strongly encouraged to review their Harassment and Equal Employment Opportunity Policies and employee handbooks for compliance with these new laws.

 

Also important is ensuring that you have proper Employment Practices Liability Insurance (EPLI) in place to respond in the event of discrimination or harassment allegations or other workplace-related disputes. Axis Insurance Services specializes in EPLI coverage and would be happy to review your insurance policy. We provide insurance to employers throughout the country. Give us a call at (877) 787-5258.

 

Sources: Reed Smith’s Employment Law Watch, New York State Council SHRM, Law 360

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Blogged on: November 18, 2015 by Mike Smith
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