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15 Changes to New York Employment Law in 2020

Employment Law

Many believe they will know right away if their employer is taking advantage of them or sidestepping their rights. But labor and employment laws change on a regular basis, and the first step to defending your rights is keeping up with these constant updates. Recent months have brought a slew of city, state, and federal laws that may affect your workplace. Fortunately, New York is one of the most employee-friendly states in the country, and these new rules reflect that value.

Here are brief summaries of 15 significant changes that New York employees should know in 2020.

  1. Increased minimum wage. New York is increasing the minimum wage to $15 per hour in yearly stages. As of December 31, 2019, the minimum hourly wage is $15 in NYC, $13 in Long Island & Westchester, and $11.80 in the rest of the state. Long Island & Westchester will have a $15 minimum wage by 2021, and the Commissioner of Labor will publish a schedule for the rest of the state later this year.
  2. Expanded overtime provisions. New York has also increased the number of people entitled to time-and-a-half overtime pay. If you work in NYC, you are now entitled to overtime if you make less than $1,125 per week. If you work in Nassau, Suffolk, or Westchester Counties, you are entitled to overtime if you make less than $975. The threshold for the rest of the state is $885. These thresholds are significantly higher than federal overtime provisions under the Fair Labor Standards Act.
  3. Expanded definition of religious discrimination. As of October 8, 2019, unlawful religious discrimination includes anything based on the employee’s religious attire or facial hair.
  4. Protections for non-employee service providers. As of October 11, 2019, independent contractors, vendors, and consultants are protected from all forms of discrimination listed under the New York State Human Rights Law (NYSHRL).
  5. Additional coverage for plaintiffs and complainants. As of October 11, 2019, plaintiffs and complainants filing suit before the New York State Division of Human Rights can now recover punitive damages as well as attorneys’ fees.
  6. Broadened standards for harassment claims. Before October 11, 2019, the NYSHRL mandated that a plaintiff/complainant needed to demonstrate “severe or pervasive” conditions to prove a harassment claim. Now, the plaintiff or complainant simply needs to prove the existence of “inferior terms, conditions, or privileges” in the workplace due to membership in a protected category (e.g. gender, race, religion, etc.).
  7. Unlawful retaliation against immigrants or non-citizens. If your employer threatens to report the citizenship or immigration status of you or your household members to an agency, they are now committing unlawful retaliation.
  8. Employers of all sizes affected by NYSHRL. Previously, employers with less than four employees weren’t obligated to adhere to the NYSHRL. Beginning on February 8, 2020, the law will apply to employers with any number of employees.
  9. Lengthened statute of limitations. Effective on August 12, 2020, complainants can file sexual harassment claims up to 3 years after the incident(s).
  10. Protections for victims of domestic violence. As of November 18, 2019, the NYSHRL includes people affected by domestic violence in its list of protected classes. Therefore, employers cannot discriminate based on this status. If the employer knows an employee is a victim of domestic violence, the employer must provide reasonable accommodations (i.e. absence from work due to covered reasons).
  11. Unlawful hairstyle discrimination. In 2019, New York expanded “race” to include certain hairstyle distinguishers. Policies that restrict these hairstyles (e.g. dreadlocks, cornrows, braids, etc.) now qualify as racial discrimination.
  12. Prohibiting salary/wage history requests. Along with many other states and local governments, New York has banned salary histories. Essentially, an employer cannot base employment or starting wages/salaries on the employee’s previous salary or wage history. The applicant or employee has the right to withhold this information from an employer, and the employer cannot retaliate in response.
  13. Protecting Employee Data. Beginning on March 21, 2020, employers will need to implement reasonable safeguards to protect employees’ private information (e.g. Social Security number, financial account numbers, passwords, etc.). According to the Stop Hacks and Improve Electronic Data Security Act (SHIELD), businesses need to create an official data security program to assess and manage risks.
  14. Paid time off to vote. All New York employees are now entitled to up to three hours of paid time off to vote in an election.
  15. Prohibiting certain required drug tests. Employers cannot require applicants to take a drug test for marijuana or THC, unless the job is related to positions such as patient care or safety and security.

When it comes to employment law, knowledge is power. Employers who prioritize profit over the wellbeing of their employees depend upon the ignorance of their workforce. The better acquainted you are with your rights, the sooner you’ll know if your employer has ignored them, and the sooner we can hold your employer accountable.

Contact Our Firm to Learn More About Your Rights

This is not a comprehensive list of changes to New York rules and laws. If you are unsure whether new laws will affect you, or you are concerned your employer has disregarded your rights, our attorneys at Schwartz Perry & Heller LLP will be more than happy to evaluate your situation and determine the best course of action.

Let us fight for your rights and wellbeing. Contact us online or give us a call at (646) 490-0221 today.