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.


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On October 13, 2019, California Governor Gavin Newsom signed into law Assembly Bill 51 (“AB 51”).  In a momentous upheaval of existing law, AB 51 prohibits California employers from requiring employees to agree to arbitrate certain disputes as a condition of new or continued employment.  AB 51 also prohibits employers from retaliating against any employee who refuses to agree to arbitration.  AB 51 takes effect January 1, 2020.

AB 51 is one of many bills to pass the desks of California governors since the beginning of the #MeToo movement.  This bill specifically forbids employers from requiring employees to “waive any right, forum, or procedure” for claims arising from the Labor Code or the California Fair Employment and Housing Act (“FEHA”), California’s principal statute outlawing employment and housing discrimination.  While AB 51 is a response to the #MeToo movement, and gained popularity as a measure aimed at bringing to light workplace sexual misconduct, AB 51’s reach is extensive, and touches any mandatory employment agreement which compels arbitration of any claim brought pursuant to the Labor Code or the FEHA.


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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.

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Last week, the Chicago City Council passed the Chicago Fair Workweek Ordinance (“the Ordinance”), which requires employers to give workers early notice of their schedules or face penalties if they change shifts without sufficient notice.  For employers, this may present an administrative challenge, but employers should be prepared to address this national trend.  New York City, Philadelphia, Seattle, San Francisco, Oregon, and the District of Columbia have already enacted laws to protect worker schedules and limit employer discretion in adjusting employee schedules. Mayor Lightfoot is expected to formally sign the bill and it will subsequently be effective July 1, 2020. The highlights follow:

Who’s Covered?

  • The Ordinance requires employers in any “Covered Industry,” which includes building services, healthcare, hotels, manufacturing, retail, or warehouse services with more than 100 employees globally (250 in the case of non-profits) with at least 50 covered employees, to provide certain protection around the scheduling of an employee’s shifts.
  • For restaurants, the law is applicable for businesses with 30 locations globally and at least 250 employees.
  • The Ordinance applies to all employees, within Covered Industries, who make less than $26 per hour or receive an annual salary of under $50,000.


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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.


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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.


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On June 25, 2019, Governor Jay B. Pritzker signed the Cannabis Regulation and Tax Act (HR1438) (“Cannabis Act”) into law. When the law goes into effect on January 1, 2020, Illinois will be the second largest state (after California) to allow the use and possession of recreational cannabis for all citizens over age 21. Notably, Illinois is the first state to legalize recreational cannabis use through legislative action, rather than ballot initiative.
Businesses in Illinois should have one simple question in mind: what can we do about drug testing now that employees have the right to use cannabis under state law? Can these employers still prohibit their employees from using cannabis when they are at work? Can these employers still prohibit their employees from partaking in cannabis when they are not at work?
The answer is, of course, it depends. Unfortunately, the Cannabis Act provides conflicting language on precisely what employers can do in terms of drug testing for employees.


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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.


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Ah, summer: less-demanding schedules, lighter workloads, and a more relaxed work wardrobe. In keeping with the professional reputation of lawyers as killjoys, however, we recommend that HR professionals act more like Aesop’s ants—using the summer to prepare for fall—than the grasshopper, who was so busy partying that he failed to prepare at all. So listen, Grasshopper: savvy HR leaders know to use their summer downtime to set themselves up for success when we all go “back to school.”

Here are seven suggestions of what New York HR professionals can get ahead of over the summer:

1. Coordinate Sexual Harassment Prevention Training – Under New York State law, all employers must provide annual sexual harassment prevention training that satisfies the State’s training requirements by October 9, 2019 (NYC has its own requirements, as we describe here). An employer can satisfy these requirements by either adopting the State’s model training documents or by providing live or interactive online/video training which meets or exceeds the State’s minimum standards. With a mid-fall deadline quickly approaching, summer is the perfect time to think about, and possibly complete, your workforce’s first annual training.


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Ah, summer: less-demanding schedules, lighter workloads, and a more relaxed work wardrobe. In keeping with the professional reputation of lawyers as killjoys, however, we recommend that HR professionals act more like Aesop’s ants—using the summer to prepare for fall—than the grasshopper, who was so busy partying that he failed to prepare at all. So listen, Grasshopper: savvy HR leaders know to use their summer downtime to set themselves up for success when we all go “back to school.”

Here are seven suggestions of what New York HR professionals can get ahead of over the summer:

1. Coordinate Sexual Harassment Prevention Training – Under New York State law, all employers must provide annual sexual harassment prevention training that satisfies the State’s training requirements by October 9, 2019 (NYC has its own requirements, as we describe here). An employer can satisfy these requirements by either adopting the State’s model training documents or by providing live or interactive online/video training which meets or exceeds the State’s minimum standards. With a mid-fall deadline quickly approaching, summer is the perfect time to think about, and possibly complete, your workforce’s first annual training.


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