As federal, state and local governments continue to develop their responses to the COVID-19 outbreak, employers may find themselves in uncharted territory as to how to deal with emerging employee issues.

There are three overriding rules that all employers should remember:

  1. Think safety first. Keeping those employees who are infected or at risk of infection at home to ensure that the rest of the workforce is safe should be the number one priority.
  2. Think about how you can keep your business going.  Make sure your work-from-home policies and technology are up to date, and remind employees how to use them.
  3. Avoid stereotypes. Do not allow employees to assume that people of certain ethnicities are at a higher risk than others. If you become aware of any discrimination or harassment—stop it immediately.

Below are some general answers to questions our clients have been asking.  However, please be aware that this is a very fact-specific and complex topic; COVID-19 related employment issues are evolving by the hour. Employers are cautioned to stay abreast of federal, state, and local government advisories, and to consult legal counsel before making employment decisions or changing policy.


Continue Reading Managing Your Workforce During COVID-19

With the arrival of 2019 novel coronavirus (“COVID-19”) to the United States, employers should begin thinking about strategies to mitigate business interruptions, ensure employee safety, and avoid unnecessary litigation.

Know Your Resources

Employers should continue to monitor reliable guidance provided by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (“CDC”) and local public health agencies. Understanding how COVID-19 is transmitted and what steps can be taken to protect diagnosed or exposed employees is essential to dispelling employee fears. Employers can educate employees on prevention and symptoms and should be prepared to answer employee concerns regarding workplace safety. The following are guides which may be helpful to employers:


Continue Reading Employer Survival Kit: Coronavirus Edition

As we close the books on 2019, and enter the new decade, New York employers should keep a list of all new legislation handy. Below is our brief summary of legislation effective 2020.

New York State Human Rights Law (NYSHRL)

In August 2019, Governor Cuomo signed groundbreaking legislation amending the NYSHRL, which we covered.  Several pieces of the law will become effective in the upcoming months, including the following:

  • January 1, 2020: Settlement agreements cannot bar individuals from speaking to an attorney, the New York State Division of Human Rights, the EEOC, local human rights commissions, or any other form of law enforcement.
  • February 8, 2020: NYSHRL will be applicable to employers of all sizes who do business in the state.
  • August 12, 2020: Statute of limitations for filing sexual harassment claims with the State Division of Human rights will be expanded from one to three years.


Continue Reading New York: 2020—New Decade, New Laws

What’s happening at McDonald’s should serve as an important lesson for many employers.  In the past two weeks, it was reported that its CEO resigned or was terminated (depending on what news outlet you read) because he exercised “poor judgment” by having an affair with a subordinate.  McDonald’s is facing a brave new world without its CEO with the added expense and distraction of defending new and outstanding sexual harassment lawsuits. What lessons can be learned?

In my management training I have been very direct with executives – do not date people in your division or line of report.  Full stop.  I now have many clients who – like McDonald’s – have enacted polices that prohibit workplace romances.

Why are these policies good and why should you consider one?  Several reasons: workplace romance is often a distraction to the business; it takes up time; it causes resentment and jealousy, and it is simply bad for business.


Continue Reading It Starts at the Top

A Los Angeles jury awarded a black former UCLA phlebotomist nearly $1.6 million in damages for being subjected to racial harassment by co-workers. Birden v. The Regents of the University of California, No. BC6681389 (Los Angeles Superior Court May 30, 2017).

Birden, who worked at UCLA as a per diem phlebotomist for approximately one year, alleged that she was subjected to racial slurs and disparaging remarks by Latino co-workers who referred to her as “lazy,” a “dark woman,” and used the “N” word in her presence. Birden claims that she reported the harassment to her supervisors but the school did not take action.

In his opening statement at trial, the attorney for the UC Board of Regents described one of Birden’s co-workers as a “good guy,” claimed “[h]e wasn’t doing it to try to offend somebody” with the use of the “N” word and argued that Birden was fired because of a clear pattern of performance issues. Birden’s counsel argued that Birden had no disciplinary history and offered testimony of Birden’s strong work ethic.

Ultimately, the jury agreed that Birden was subjected to severe and pervasive harassment by her co-workers due to her race and awarded Birden (1) $500,000 for past emotional distress and mental harm, (2) $800,000 for future emotional distress and mental harm, (3) more than $190,000 for past economic loss and (4) more than $86,000 for future economic loss. However, the jury did reject Birden’s claim that she was terminated because of her race.


Continue Reading Employers’ Non-Action Resulted in $1.6 Million Awarded in Harassment Claim

Governor Cuomo signed the groundbreaking harassment legislation that we previously covered here on August 12, 2019. The law profoundly alters the landscape of harassment claims in New York and how employers should be prepared to handle them. Key provisions include eliminating the “severe or pervasive” standard for discriminatory and retaliatory harassment cases, prohibiting mandatory arbitration for all discrimination claims (not just sexual harassment), and banning non-disclosure agreements for all discrimination claims.

Continue Reading BREAKING NEWS: Governor Cuomo Signs Off On Groundbreaking Harassment Legislation

With the crowd’s chant of “equal pay” echoing at the Women’s World Cup soccer match and again as the champions float down the Canyon of Heroes, the issue of pay equality continues to be in the spotlight, and the New York legislature has jumped onto this moving train.

In addition to passing a powerhouse bill that strengthens protections for workers who claim workplace harassment, New York recently passed two pay equity bills that expand protections for current employees and job applicants.

Now, more than ever, employers in New York State should pay close attention to this rapidly changing legal landscape.


Continue Reading They Work Hard for Their Money, So You Better Pay Them Right– Governor Cuomo Signs Historic Pay Equity Legislation

Please join Kelley Drye’s Labor and Employment team for a virtual WORKing Lunch, a webinar series focused on bringing you the latest trends and developments in workplace law. If you or a colleague are interested in receiving an invitation to any of the webinars, please contact marketing@kelleydrye.com.

This webinar series is designed to provide in-house counsel, management and HR professionals with trends and developments related to workplace law. We can provide CLE, SHRM and HRCI credit if desired.

The “Year of the Woman” – Pay Equity and Gender Equality Legislation and Litigation
Date: Wednesday, September 25, 2019
Time: 12:30 pm ET | 11:30 am CT

With agency and legislative support, female employees are demanding pay equity, opportunity equality, and fair treatment for pregnant workers and new parents. New York is just the latest state to pass new pay equity legislation, and this trend will continue. We will discuss compliance with ever-changing legal requirements, as well as how to audit your business to identify and eliminate risk.


Continue Reading WORKing Lunch: Kelley Dyre’s L&E Webinar Series

As we reported on June 21, New York blew the lid off 30 years of sexual harassment and discrimination law by passing legislation that, among other things, bars mandatory arbitration of all claims of discrimination. That earthquake was followed by a substantial aftershock: according to a federal court, that provision of the state law doesn’t square with federal law, which specifically permits arbitration of these claims.

This latest monkey-wrench was thrown into the gears just last week by federal district court Judge Denise Cote when she held that New York’s arbitration law prohibiting arbitration of sexual harassment claims (effective as of July 2018 and reported on by this blog last year) is preempted by the Federal Arbitration Act (“FAA”), and is therefore invalid. This is the first case deciding the merits of this arbitration exclusion. And although Judge Cote didn’t formally rule on the more general, brand-new bar on arbitration of all discrimination claims (harassment or not), she observed in a footnote that the more general bar suffers from the same problem and is probably preempted by federal law, too.

This decision will likely result in a failure-to-launch of the arbitration prohibitions in this latest round of legislation. But for now, here’s the unsettling message for employers navigating the ever-shifting landscape of discrimination law obligations: the new provisions of New York law barring mandatory arbitration of all employment discrimination claims will be struck down, but for the time being, you can’t count on it.


Continue Reading Not So Fast: Southern District of New York Holds Federal Law Pre-Empts State Sexual Harassment Arbitration Law

Clichés like “seismic shift” and “paradigm change” do not begin to describe just how profoundly the New York legislature changed the standards for harassment claims in a bill passed June 19. HR professionals and employers beware: the sexual harassment foundation you have known for 30 years—and upon which all your in-house training, HR policies, and legal and HR instincts are built—has just been neatly demolished. Here’s why:

A Critical Bit of History

Boring history lesson now ensues (but will make you sound smart when you tell your HR and management colleagues about it):

Everybody knows that Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964—the basic model for all state employment discrimination statutes—makes it unlawful to discriminate against employees on the basis of a number of protected characteristics, including “sex.” In 1964, and for a couple of decades after that, “discrimination” meant the big employment decisions: you couldn’t refuse to hire, fail to promote, or fire somebody because she was, say, a woman, or black, or a Baptist. Under the original conception of Title VII, those were the tangible, serious “adverse employment actions” that violated the law—that is, anything that involved getting a job, losing a job, getting promoted or paid on that job, etc. The big stuff only.


Continue Reading Read This Now: New York’s Groundbreaking Sexual Harassment Legislation