Aug 13, 2009

Recent Updates in New York Employment Laws

Employers operating in the State of New York should become familiar with a variety of laws that create new risks and requirements regarding personnel issues.

Amendments to Human Rights Law: The New York State Human Rights Law was recently amended.

Penalties for Offending Employers: On July 6, 2009, legislation went into effect imposing additional penalties on employers who are found to have engaged in discrimination based on age, race, creed, color, national origin, sexual orientation, military status, sex, disability, predisposed genetic characteristics, and military status. Previously, a person found to be the victim of such discrimination was entitled to affirmative action (e.g., hiring, promotion, reinstatement, etc.) and compensatory damages (e.g., economic compensation and emotional distress damages). The new legislation subjects offending employers to penalties of as much as $50,000, or up to $100,000 if the discrimination is found to be “wanton, willful or malicious.”

The practical implications of this new legislation should become more clear when the New York State Division of Human Rights issues guidelines describing the standards that will be applied when civil penalties are imposed on employers.

Protection for Domestic Violence Victims: Governor Patterson signed into law the addition of domestic violence victims to the list of persons who are covered by the Human Rights Law. Therefore, employers are prohibited from discriminating against domestic violence victims in compensation and/or other terms and conditions of employment, and from retaliating against employees who complain about such unlawful conduct. Domestic violence is defined by the Human Rights Law to include such acts as disorderly conduct, harassment, stalking, menacing, reckless endangerment and assault between spouses or members of the same family.

Notice of Employee Wages: New York currently requires employers to notify each newly hired employee of his or her rate of pay and the regular pay day. However, starting on October 26, 2009, employers must provide non-exempt new hires with written notification of both their regularly hourly pay rate and the overtime rate. Employers must also obtain a written acknowledgment from each such employee that he or she received the above mentioned notice.

Extension of Mini-COBRA Rights: For years, New York offered continued group health coverage to employees who lose their jobs but are not covered by federal COBRA law. Now, the “mini-COBRA” coverage is extended. Amendments do not change the conditions under which a person may be eligible for continued health coverage. However, they do provide persons with the ability to receive continued coverage for up to 36 months. The law previously permitted up to 18 months of continued coverage. This amendment applies retroactively to insurance policies and contracts issued, renewed, modified, altered or amended on or after July 1, 2009. Employers who maintain insured group health plans and who are affected by this law should coordinate with their insurers to revise their COBRA policy, employee notices, election forms and summary plan descriptions accordingly.

For more information on any of the changes to the New York employment laws and to find out how they may affect your organization, please contact your employment law counsel at Smith, Gambrell, & Russell, LLP.

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