As discussed in our previous advisory, Governor Kathy Hochul has now signed amendments to the New York State Human Rights law that provide further protections for individuals filing complaints of discrimination or harassment. Specifically, the amendments modify the definition of unlawful retaliation to include "disclosing an employee's personnel files because he or she has opposed any practices forbidden under [the NYSHRL] or because he or she has filed a complaint, testified or assisted in any proceeding." The law took effect March 16, 2022, with the Governor's signing.
On the same day, the Governor signed another bill, (S812A), which directs the New York State Division of Human Rights (NYSDHR) to establish a free, confidential hotline for individuals to make complaints about workplace sexual harassment. The hotline will be staffed by pro-bono attorneys who will advise callers of their legal rights, as well as the specifics of their individual cases. The hotline is to be operated under Rule 6.5 of the New York Rules of Professional Conduct which, among other things, requires lawyers providing pro bono services under a government-sponsored program to "secure the client's informed consent to the limited scope of the representation."
In an apparent attempt to prevent plaintiffs' counsel from using the hotline to attract potential clients, the law specifically states that these pro bono attorneys "may not solicit, or permit employees or agents of the attorneys to solicit on the attorney's behalf, further representation of any individuals they advise through the hotline relating to [a] discussed sexual harassment complaint."
The new law regarding the hotline goes into effect on July 14, 2022. Once the hotline is established, New York employers will be required to include information about the hotline in any materials they are required to post or provide to employees regarding sexual harassment. We expect the NYSDHR to issue additional guidelines regarding the functions of the hotline and employers' obligations to inform employees about the hotline.
DWT attorneys will monitor and report on any guidance that is issued and provide advice and counsel to employers about any updates employers must make to materials such as employee handbook policies and workplace postings in order to comply with the new law.