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2019 Year in Review and Looking Ahead to 2020

Every year, it seems that New York State throws many curveballs to employers with new regulations, and 2019 was no exception. Let’s look back at some of the changes we faced in 2019 as we prepare for 2020.

  • On January 1, 2019, the New York State Paid Family Leave duration increased from eight to 10 weeks of job protected leave. Wage benefits also increased from up to 50% of an employee’s average weekly wage to up to 55%. Wage benefits were capped at up to 55% of the state average weekly wages.
  • Effective February 3, 2019, The Living Donor Protection Act amended the New York State Paid Family Leave Law. The Act updated the definition of “serious health condition” under Paid Family Leave to include "transplantation preparation and recovery from surgery related to organ or tissue donation.” This allows employees to use Paid Family Leave to care for an eligible family member who is a living donor.
  • The New York Gender Expression Non-Discrimination Act came into law on February 24, 2019. The Act expanded the New York State Human Rights Law (NYSHRL) to include discrimination protection for employees based on gender identity or expression. Gender identity or expression is defined under the NYSHRL as “a person's actual or perceived gender-related identity, appearance, behavior, expression, or other gender-related characteristic regardless of the sex assigned to that person at birth, including, but not limited to, the status of being transgender.”
  • April 12, 2019 marked the effective date of the expanded New York State Voting Leave law. The law now provides for up to three (3) paid hours of leave for employees to cast their ballot in any election. Previously, New York State limited voting leave for employees who did not have reasonable time before or after work to be able to vote. Employers must also post a notice at least 10 days before an election notifying employees of their voting leave rights. An FAQ document has also been provided by the NYS Board of Elections and has provided answers to may comment questions.
  • Hairstyle discrimination protection for employees became effective on July 12, 2019. The NYSHRL now protects employees with traits that have been historically associated with race including hair texture, braids, locks and twists.
  • In addition to hairstyle discrimination protections, October 8, 2019 marked the implementation of discrimination protection for sincerely held religious practices including facial hair, clothing and religious attire.
  • October 8, 2019 also marked the expanded Equal Pay Law to prohibit wage discrimination based on any protected class. Protected classes in New York State currently includes: race (including traits historically associated with race, such as hair texture and protective hairstyles), color, creed, religion (including wearing attire, clothing or facial hair in accordance with the tenets of religion), sex (including pregnancy, childbirth or related medical conditions and transgender status), reproductive health decisions, gender identity or expression, familial status, national origin, physical or mental disability (including gender dysphoria and being a certified medical marijuana patient), genetic information (including predisposing genetic characteristics), age (18 and over), veteran status, military status, sexual orientation, marital status, certain arrest or conviction records and domestic violence victim status. Additionally, equal pay must be provided to employees who perform substantially similar work “when viewed as a composite of skill, effort and responsibility and performed under similar working conditions."
  • Additional NYSHRL amendments went into effect on October 11, 2019. Several notable changes were made, including the elimination of “affirmative defense” which previously provided limited an employer’s liability for harassment claims if the employer could prove they had a policy, provided training, had reporting procedures in place and the employee failed to report the harassment. Under the amendments, an individual’s failure to report harassment in the workplace does not necessarily preclude employer liability. This is a crucial update and requires all levels of management to be well-versed in harassment prevention and maintain a pulse on the work environment.
  • The Stop Hacks and Improve Electronic Data Security Act (SHIELD Act) went into effect on October 23, 2020. The Act requires covered employers to have reasonable safeguards in place to protect the security and confidentiality of private information. Employers should be working with their IT Administrator to ensure these safeguards are in place.
  • On October 27, 2019, an amended labor law passed to prohibit discrimination against immigrant employees. Specifically, employers are prohibited from calling or threatening to call immigration authorities to report an employee or an employee’s family members or household members alleged immigration status.
  • On November 8, 2019, Governor Cuomo signed a new law that prohibits employers from discriminating against employees’ or their dependents’ decisions on their sexual and reproductive health. The term sexual or reproductive health means “any decision by an individual to receive services that are arranged for or offered or provided to individuals relating to sexual and reproductive health, including the reproductive system and its functions.” This includes but is not limited to fertility procedures, sexually transmitted disease treatment, contraception and abortion.
  • Another addition to the NYSHRL became effective on November 18, 2019 with added protection to employees who are victims of domestic violence. The amendment prohibits employers from discriminating against applicants and employees because of their status as domestic violence victims and prohibits employers from denying reasonable accommodations outside of an undue hardship if time away from work is needed because of their domestic violence victim status.
  • To close out the year, the annual minimum wage increase will take effect on December 31, 2019. The upstate New York minimum wage increases to $11.80 per hour. Additionally, the minimum salary threshold in New York for employees under the executive or administrative exemption will increase to $885.00 per week for upstate employers. Additional minimum wage and salary increases apply to employees in other parts of the state and may be found here.

What’s New for 2020

As if 2019 didn’t bring enough legislative change, we are anticipating another busy year for New York employers. Here’s what we know so far about the year ahead:

  • January 1, 2020 will see an update to the New York State Paid Family Leave law. Employee contribution rates will increase to .27% of an employee’s gross wages each pay period, capped at a maximum annual contribution of $196.72, and benefits will increase to up to 60% of an employee’s average weekly wage. Employees remain eligible to receive up to 10 weeks of leave for a qualifying reason.
  • Employers in New York State that offer group health insurance plans must provide contraceptive coverage and may not impose any deductibles, copays, or other cost-sharing requirements, or any other restrictions on contraceptive coverage effective January 1, 2020.
  • Employers in New York will be required to post a copy of their workers’ compensation poster in both English and Spanish beginning January 1, 2020. The posters must be obtained from the Company’s workers’ compensation carrier.
  • Employers in the agricultural industry will be impacted by the New York Farm Laborers Fair Practices Act that also takes effect on January 1. The Act will allow farm laborers to organize to collectively bargain. The Act also provides farm workers 24 consecutive hours of rest each week, requires employers to provide overtime at one- and one-half times the workers’ regular rate of pay and provides disability and Paid Family Leave benefits to laborers. Additional information may be found here.
  • Effective January 6, 2020, New York’s Salary History Inquiry Law will take effect. This law will prohibit employers from seeking, requesting or requiring applicants from disclosing their salary history in order to be considered for a position. Employers will be prohibited from refusing to interview, hire or promote individuals because they did not disclose their salary history.
  • Additional changes to the New York State Human Rights Law will go into effect on February 8, 2020. All private employers in New York State, regardless of the number of employees, will now be covered under the New York State Human Rights Law. Currently, the law covers employers with four or more employees. Additional information can be found here.
  • On August 12, 2020, New York State Human Rights Law will expand the statute of limitations for employee sexual harassment claims from one year to three years. All other claims filed under the NYS Human Rights Law will be subject to a one-year statute of limitations.
  • Employers in New York must continue to ensure compliance with the NY Sexual Harassment training requirements, ensuring all new hires receive training “as soon as possible” as well as provide annual sexual harassment training for all employees.
  • December 31, 2020 will see another increase for the state minimum wage. The upstate New York minimum wage will increase to $12.50 per hour. Additionally, the minimum salary threshold in New York for employees under the executive or administrative exemption will increase to $937.50 per week for upstate employers.

 

HR Works Can Help

The HR Works Compliance Team will continue to keep our clients abreast of upcoming changes throughout 2020. Compliance Specialists are available to answer questions on how these changes impact your business. Helpline clients can contact the HR Works Virtual Helpline at 585-381-8340 opt. 1 or hrhelp@hrworks-inc.com for answers to your labor compliance questions.

 

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HR Works, Inc., headquartered at 200 WillowBrook Office Park in Fairport (Rochester), New York, with an office in East Syracuse, is a human resource management outsourcing and consulting firm serving clients throughout the United States. HR Works provides scalable strategic human resource management and consulting services, including: affirmative action programs; benefits administration outsourcing; HRIS self-service technology; full-time, part-time and interim on-site HR managers; HR audits; legally reviewed employee handbooks and supervisor manuals; talent management and recruiting services; and training of managers and HR professionals.