As we previously reported, the New York State Senate recently passed a handful of significant employment-related bills. On March 16, Governor Kathy Hochul signed several of the bills into law.

Perhaps most notably, Senate Bill S.5870 bars employers from disclosing an employee’s personnel files because the of the employee’s participation in a workplace complaint or proceeding, unless such disclosure is otherwise required or permitted by law. The law allows the Attorney General to commence an action or proceeding if, upon information or belief, the Attorney General is of the opinion that an employer has been, is, or is about to retaliate against an employee. Previously, the only enforcement mechanism was a private right of action. This amendment is effective immediately.

In addition, Senate Bill S.812A requires the New York State Division of Human Rights (NYSDHR) to establish a toll-free confidential hotline to provide counsel and assistance to individuals with complaints of workplace sexual harassment. The NYSDHR will also recruit attorneys to provide pro bono assistance to individuals that call the hotline. Under this new law, employers will be required to provide information on the hotline in any materials posted or provided to employees regarding sexual harassment. This new measure goes into effect in July 2022.

New York employers should immediately review their retaliation and personnel file policies to ensure compliance with S.5870, as well as train Human Resources and supervisors on the new law. As July approaches, employers should also ensure that their sexual harassment materials reflect the confidential hotline, for which we anticipate supplemental guidance will be issued.