Caveat Employers: New Laws Going into Effect in 2020 Affect Every Employer

A host of new employment obligations ranging from sexual harassment prevention training to stricter data breach notification requirements will go into effect in early 2020 and will be a shock to some employers who were previously exempt.

One of the biggest overhauls of 2019 involved sweeping changes to New York State Human Rights Law [NYSHRL] expanding harassment and discrimination protections.

Among employers’ new obligations was to give workers sexual harassment prevention training by this past October or face fines if you are caught or a complaint is made. That obligation continues and employers are required to do that training annually.

Also as a result of changes to NYSHRL, effective Feb. 8, the Human Rights Law will apply to employers of all sizes. Previously, except with respect to sexual harassment, the law covered only employers with four or more employees. So the minute your business takes on a single employee you must provide the training. The law was also changed to protect non-employee service providers, such as independent contractors, consultants and vendors, from all forms of unlawful discrimination and harassment based on any protected characteristic under the NYSHRL.

The NYSHRL covers protected characteristics including sex, race, color, creed, religion, age, sexual orientation and disability. This means employees will be able to file a charge of discrimination with the state’s Division of Human Rights (NYSDHR) even with the smallest of employers. Most small businesses are unprepared and ill-equipped to handle the new requirements. A number of websites have already popped up offering the training online at cost ranging from $11.95 to $100.00 per employee. The State also has link that provides it for free: https://www.getimpactly.com/resources/free-new-york-harassment-prevention-training/

In addition, as of Jan. 1 under changes to NYSHRL, any agreement with an employee that prevents the disclosure of factual information related to a future claim of discrimination is void and unenforceable unless the employee is specifically informed that despite the nondisclosure agreement, the employee is not prohibited from speaking with law enforcement, the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, the NYSDHR, a local human rights agency or an attorney retained by the employee. Law firms and employers alike would be wise to add this language right now to their form non-disclosure or settlement agreements.

Furthermore, effective Aug. 12, 2020, the statute of limitations for filing a sexual harassment claim with the NYSDHR is extended from one to three years. This widening of the statue of limitations will make it easier for employees to bring up several separate instances in one claim. That is particularly important because the State also changed the law to match the law in the City of New York where the Human Rights Law in 2009 was amended remove the requirement that workplace harassment be “serious and pervasive” (the Federal standard). Now a single incident that is discriminatory or harassing can form the basis of a claim.

Outside of Human Rights Law changes, some other notable changes include:

•    As of Dec. 31, 2019, minimum wage on Long Island increases from $12 an hour to $13 an hour, and more employees will be eligible to receive overtime pay because the salary threshold to exempt certain employees from overtime increases. On Long Island, employees must make at least $50,700 ($975 weekly) to be exempted from overtime pay — up from $46,800 ($900 weekly). Furthermore, to be exempt, the employee’s job duties also must primarily involve executive, administrative or professional duties as defined by the regulations.

•    Effective Jan. 1, employees taking Paid Family Leave will receive 60% of their average weekly wage up to a cap of 60% of the current statewide average weekly wage of $1,401.17, so the maximum weekly benefit for 2020 will be $840.70. The benefits are funded by employee contributions collected via payroll deductions. In 2020, the contribution is 0.270% of employees’ gross wages each pay period, up to a max of $196.72 for the year.

•    On Jan. 6, a statewide ban on salary history inquiries takes effect. Employers and anyone connecting applicants with employers are forbidden from asking job applicants or current employees about their wage or salary histories as a condition of consideration for employment or promotion.

•    By Jan. 7, employee handbooks must include a notice of employees’ rights and remedies under the a 2019 law that prohibits employment discrimination based on an employee or dependent’s reproductive health decision-making (ie., abortion, etc.).

  • The City of New York also made it illegal to discriminate based on a person’s hair or hairstyle.

Effective March 21, as part of New York’s SHIELD Act, employers must adopt more stringent data security safeguards to protect employee data. More expansive data breach notification requirements already went into effect in 2019. 

I know I speak for many of my small business owner clients when I say that these new laws will come as a shock. It’s important that if you have even a single employee, you get educated on all the new rules and regulations and take steps to come into compliance.

Follow me on Twitter @oscarmichelen

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