New York State Expands Employment Protections for Victims of Domestic Violence
On August 20, 2019, Governor Andrew Cuomo signed an amendment to the New York State Human Rights Law expanding employment protections for victims of domestic violence. The new law became effective as of November 18, 2019.
A “victim of domestic violence” is defined as “any person over the age of sixteen, any married person or any parent accompanied by his or her minor child or children in situations in which such person or such person's child is a victim of an act which would constitute a violation of the penal law.” Such acts include disorderly conduct, harassment, aggravated harassment, sexual misconduct, forcible touching, sexual abuse, stalking, criminal mischief, menacing, reckless endangerment, kidnapping, assault, attempted assault, attempted murder, criminal obstruction of breathing or blood circulation, and strangulation. The act must also have been committed by a family or household member, and must result in, or create a substantial risk of, physical or emotional injury to the victim or the victim’s child.
Under the amendment, it is an unlawful discriminatory practice for employers to:
- Refuse to hire or fire an employee because they are a victim of domestic violence;
- Discriminate against a victim of domestic violence in compensation, terms, conditions or privileges of employment;
- Print or circulate any statement, advertisement, or publication that directly or indirectly expresses any limitation, specification, or discrimination with respect to a prospective employee’s status as a victim of domestic violence; or
- Use an employment application or make an inquiry which directly or indirectly expresses any limitation, specification, or discrimination as to a prospective employee’s status as a victim of domestic violence.
The amendment also requires employers to reasonably accommodate a victim of domestic violence who must be absent from work, so long as it is not an undue hardship for the employer. However, leave accommodations for domestic violence reasons are limited to the following:
- Seeking medical attention or obtaining psychological counseling, including for a child who is a victim of domestic violence, provided that the employee is not the perpetrator of the domestic violence against the child;
- Obtaining services from a domestic violence shelter, program, or rape crisis center;
- Participating in safety planning, including temporary or permanent relocation; or
- Obtaining legal services, assisting in the prosecution of the offense, or appearing in court in relation to an incident of domestic violence.
The employer may charge leave accommodations for domestic violence reasons to any paid time off that an employee has accrued or can provide unpaid leave if an employee does not have any paid leave available. Importantly, employers are also required to continue providing health insurance coverage to an employee who must be absent from work due to domestic violence reasons.
Employees who must miss work for domestic violence-related reasons are required to provide advance notice to their employer. If advance notice is not feasible, the employer can require the employee to provide timely certification of the domestic violence-related leave in the form of a police report, court order, medical documentation, or evidence of court appearance. Finally, employers must maintain the confidentiality of any information regarding an employee’s status as a victim of domestic violence to the extent allowed by law.
Employers should review their policies, applications, employee handbook, new-hire notices, and training materials, to ensure that they are consistent with protections for victims of domestic violence under the law. Employers should also ensure that managers and supervisors are trained to properly handle requests for reasonable accommodation from employees for domestic violence-related reasons.
Please do not hesitate to contact our attorneys if you have any questions regarding the new state law or if you need any assistance ensuring that your company policies are complaint with the law.