New York Women's Equality Act

New York recently passed the New York Women’s Equality Act, designed to protect and further women’s equality in the state. This bundle of several laws includes provisions that strengthen the current federal and state laws that prohibit employers from paying women less than men for performing the same work.

First, this legislation adds a provision that prohibits employers from taking adverse action against an employee who discusses his or her wages. Although the law permits an employer to establish a written policy concerning such discussions and disclosures, such as defining limitations on the time and place for such discussions, the employer must also consider the National Labor Relations Board’s (NLRB) position on this issue before such a policy is implemented. In this regard, the NLRB considers wage discussions among employees to be protected concerted activity under federal law.

The legislation also expands the coverage of the New York Human Rights Law (HRL) to all employers in sexual harassment cases, regardless of the number of employees. The HRL was also amended to allow prevailing plaintiffs in sexual harassment and gender discrimination cases to recover attorney’s fees. Prevailing defendants may be awarded attorney’s fees if it is established that the action or proceeding was frivolous. This will likely increase litigation in the Division of Human Rights.

In addition, the legislation amends the HRL to protect women with children by prohibiting discrimination in employment based on “familial status” which is defined as : any person whom is pregnant or has a child or is in the process securing legal custody of any individual under the age of eighteen; OR, one or more individuals under the age of eighteen who are domiciled with a parent or another person having legal custody of such individual or individuals, or the designee of such parent. (The amendment was focused on protecting women with children, but it also applies to men in the described circumstances.)

Finally, this legislation further amends the HRL by requiring employers to provide reasonable accommodations for employees who have a pregnancy-related condition. The memorandum explaining this amendment included examples of reasonable accommodations, including temporarily removing heavy lifting from required job duties.

The legislation was effective January 19, 2016.

Article written by John C. Fish, Esq. For more information, contact Mr. Fish at (607) 231-6712 or via email at


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