Governor Hochul just announced the launch of a toll-free confidential hotline for individuals to make complaints and seek advice regarding workplace sexual harassment. As discussed in our previous advisory (which can be found here - NY Governor Expands Protections for Sexual Harassment Claims | Davis Wright Tremaine (dwt.com)), in March 2022, Governor Hochul had directed the New York State Division of Human Rights (NYSDHR) to establish the hotline.
The hotline will be operated by the NYSDHR and will be staffed by pro-bono attorneys who will advise callers of their legal rights. The NYSDHR is required to operate the hotline during regular business hours and to disseminate information about the hotline in order to ensure public knowledge of its existence. Specifically, the New York Department of Labor (NYDOL) and NYSDHR are required to cooperate to ensure that information related to the hotline is included in any materials employers must post or provide to employees regarding sexual harassment.
Significantly, the law prohibits the pro-bono attorneys from soliciting further representation of any individuals they advise through the hotline relating to sexual harassment. We suspect that this prohibition is an effort to prevent plaintiffs’ counsel from using the hotline to attract potential clients.
The NYSDHR and NYDOL have not yet published materials or guidance regarding an employer’s obligations to notify employees of the hotline. We expect that the NYSDHR and NYDOL will require employers to notify employees of the hotline and to provide employees with an approved posting. Moreover, it is likely that employers will be required to include the hotline number in their anti-harassment handbook policies.
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.