New York Developments

COVID-19 Update: Senate Passes Families First Coronavirus Response Act

On Wednesday, the Senate passed the Families First Coronavirus Response Act or H.R. 6201. The approved legislation has been sent to President Donald Trump’s desk for his signature. On Monday evening, the House passed its amended and final version of the bipartisan legislation, which we outline below. Stay tuned for updates as the approved legislation awaits the President’s signature. READ MORE

What to do When Working From Home Won’t Work?

If you’re like many this week you, your partner or roommates and your children of all ages may be working from home. Schools of all levels are closed and maybe have instituted distance learning. Day care centers are closed too. So are libraries, coffee shops, restaurants and other places remote workers go to think and work. Successful working is about more than just having good WiFi. So, what are the options if remote working is not working for your employees or they simply cannot do their job from home? READ MORE

New York Joins Board Diversity Reporting Bandwagon

New York State enacted the “Women on Corporate Boards Study” on December 30, 2019, with the goal of improving diversity on corporate boards. Effective June 27, 2020, the law requires the New York Department of State and Department of Taxation and Finance to conduct a study on the number of women who serve on boards of directors of companies doing business in New York State. To facilitate the study, the law requires foreign and domestic corporations to report to the Secretary of State the number of directors on their boards and to specify how many of those directors are women as part of the corporation’s filing statement.

The study will analyze the number of women directors and the total number of directors that constitute the board of each corporation, the change in the number of women directors from previous years, and the aggregate percentage of women directors on all boards in New York. The law also provides that the Department of State will publish a report regarding the study on or before February 1, 2022, with a new report required every four years thereafter.

The law is described as a “proactive approach to address historical inequality and end discriminatory practices,” with New York leading the way. In signing the legislation, Governor Cuomo stated, “[f]rom new pay equity laws to strongest-in-the-nation sexual harassment policies, New York is leading the fight for gender equality in the workplace—but our work won’t be done until women are better represented at the highest levels of organizations.” Cuomo further stated that the new study would “help shed light on the problem and guide the development of new policies to ensure more women have a seat at the proverbial table.”

The Growing National Trend in Board Diversity Efforts

New York is not the only jurisdiction to implement corporate reporting aimed at increasing board diversity. Illinois passed a corporate reporting law in August 2019, requiring corporations to include additional board composition information in annual reports submitted to the Secretary of State. The additional required information includes the gender of each board member, various processes for identifying and appointing executive officers, and the corporation’s policies and practices for promoting diversity and inclusion among its board and executive officers. Maryland also enacted reporting requirements effective October 2019, requiring certain corporations to include in their annual reports the number of women serving on the board of directors and the total number of board members.

This legislation follows in the footsteps of California’s first-of-its-kind law requiring women to be represented on boards. As we previously reported, in 2018, California passed a law requiring publicly held corporations based in California to have at least one woman director by the end of 2019. The law also provides that by the end of 2021, corporations with five or more directors on the board must have at least two female board members, and boards with six or more board seats must have at least three women board members. The law—currently being challenged on constitutional grounds—imposes significant penalties for failing to comply and calls for publishing the names of compliant and non-compliant companies.

Legislation to increase board diversity and to require corporations to report board diversity is a growing trend in response to the #MeToo movement. Employers should take heed of the growing interest in legislation aimed to increase board diversity and should remain on watch for developments in the jurisdictions where they operate. Indeed, board diversity has piqued Congressional interest, as exemplified by the House’s passage of the Improving Corporate Governance Through Diversity Act of 2019, which would require public companies to annually disclose the gender, race, ethnicity, and veteran status of their board of directors, nominees, and senior executive officers, and would require the Securities and Exchange Commission to establish a Diversity Advisory Group to study strategies for increasing gender, racial, and ethnic diversity among boards of directors. In addition, some companies are already taking the reins in pressuring businesses to increase board diversity: for instance, Goldman Sachs recently announced that it would not take companies public in the U.S. and Europe if they do not have at least one diverse board director.

Regulators Offer Insights Into SEC, CFTC, and OSHA Whistleblower Program’s Trends and Priorities

On July 16, 2019, three prominent whistleblower law regulators spoke at PLI’s Corporate Whistleblowing in 2019, which was co-chaired by Orrick partners Mike Delikat and Renee Phillips. With the standard disclaimer that their comments and opinions were their own and not the official comments of their respective agencies, each spoke about their agencies’ whistleblower program’s current progress, challenges, and priorities. READ MORE

New York City Broadens Employee Anti-Retaliation Protections Under NYCHRL

Not to be outdone by the New York State legislature’s flurry of eleventh-hour lawmaking (which we previously reported on here and here), the New York City Council recently passed an employment bill pending since April of 2018. The new law, Int. No. 0799-2018, amends and broadens workplace anti-retaliation protections under § 8-107(7)(v) of the New York City Human Rights Law (“NYCHRL”) by including that it is illegal to retaliate against an employee or applicant who requests a reasonable accommodation under the law. READ MORE

Phase Two of New York Legislative Response to #MeToo: State Passes Comprehensive Anti-Discrimination Expansion Bill

Major changes are in store for New York employers under a new bill passed in the waning hours of the 2019 legislative session. As part of an ongoing, multi-year effort to address sexual harassment and other discrimination and harassment issues, the New York legislature on June 19, 2019 passed Assembly Bill 8421 (“AB 8421”), a compendium bill that introduces new and refined employee protections against harassment, retaliation, and discrimination in the workplace. AB 8421 amends the New York State Human Rights Law (“NYSHRL”) to usher in new affirmative protections and procedural mandates that will significantly affect employer liability under state law. Building on protections previously enacted under the 2018 state budget, AB 8421 will expand prohibitions on nondisclosure agreements and arbitration agreements to categories of discrimination and harassment beyond sexual harassment. Key elements of AB 8421 are described below. READ MORE

Up in Smoke: New York City Bans Pre-Employment Drug Testing for Marijuana

Effective May 10, 2020, New York City employers may no longer test prospective employees for marijuana and tetrahydrocannabinols (THC), the active ingredient in marijuana. This bill- which is the first of its kind in the country- makes such testing an unlawful discriminatory practice under the New York City Human Rights Law. READ MORE

Must-See Viewing: NYC Sexual Harassment Video Training Released

The New York City Commission on Human Rights (“NYCCHR”) released its long anticipated model anti-sexual harassment training on April 1, 2019.  The City’s model training satisfies all of the training requirements under both New York State and City laws, although the training is geared to educate viewers as to the broader sexual harassment protections afforded to workers by the New York City laws.  READ MORE

New York City: Employment Actions Based On Hairstyle May Be Unlawful Race Discrimination

On February 18, 2019, the New York City Commission on Human Rights (NYCCHR) announced new enforcement guidance deeming certain actions taken based on an individual’s hair or hairstyle – whether at work, at school, or in public spaces – a form of racial discrimination. READ MORE

New York State and New York City Ring in the New Year With More Gender Protections

Last year, in the immediate aftermath of the #MeToo movement, both New York State and New York City passed sweeping legislation that sought to provide additional protections for individuals from sexual harassment (see our prior blog posts here). Perhaps most notable was legislation requiring all New York State employers to adopt a sexual harassment prevention policy by October 2018 and to conduct annual sexual harassment prevention training beginning no later than October 2019, among other things. Neither the State nor City legislatures appear to be slowing down – already this year, both have enacted additional worker protections. READ MORE