On March 16, 2022, New York Governor Kathy Hochul signed into law two amendments to the State’s workplace anti-discrimination and anti-harassment laws.
First, the New York State Human Rights Law (“NYSHRL”), New York Executive Law Sections 296 and 297, was amended to explicitly prohibit employers from disclosing or releasing an employee’s personnel file in retaliation for opposing discriminatory practices, for filing a complaint, or for testifying or assisting in any proceeding. This practice of disclosing or releasing a personnel file is also now included within the NYSHRL’s definition of retaliation. 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. Employees who believe their personnel records were disclosed in retaliation have a private right of action under the NYSHRL, or can file a complaint with the New York State Attorney General, who may commence a proceeding against the employer. This law is effective immediately.
Second, the NYSHRL, New York Executive Law Section 295, has been amended to require the New York State Division of Human Rights (“NYSDHR”) to establish a toll-free, confidential hotline for complaints of workplace sexual harassment. The hotline will operate during regular business hours and will be staffed by pro bono attorneys experienced in providing counsel related to sexual harassment. Under the new legislation, the NYSDHR must work with the New York State Department of Labor to disseminate information about the hotline and ensure that such information is included in any materials employers must post or provide to employees regarding sexual harassment. This law takes effect July 14, 2022.
In light of these recent amendments, employers should revisit their policies. Also, employers should expect additional amendments to the State’s anti-discrimination and anti-harassment laws in the near future as additional potential amendments to these laws are currently under consideration by the New York State Assembly. We will continue monitoring developments in this area and provide updates as new information becomes available.