New York City Employers: Update Your Policies and Practices for 2019

Be aware of anti-harassment training, lactation accommodation and wage requirements

Lisa Nagele-Piazza, J.D., SHRM-SCP By Lisa Nagele-Piazza, J.D., SHRM-SCP December 18, 2018
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Employers in New York City must comply with a host of new laws that either took effect in 2018 or will take effect in 2019. New mandates on sexual-harassment-prevention training and policies, lactation accommodations, and minimum wage and exempt salary thresholds top the compliance checklist.

Now is a good time for a comprehensive review of employee manuals and onboarding materials, said Laurent Drogin, an attorney with Tarter Krinsky & Drogin in New York City. Under some laws, employers must provide a copy of the policy to new hires, make it available online or post it in the workplace, he noted.

Knowledge is the key to compliance, said Gena Usenheimer, an attorney with Seyfarth Shaw in New York City. "Once New York City employers understand the scope of their legal obligations for 2019, we recommend a broad review of their policies, practices and payroll procedures to ensure compliance."

Anti-Harassment Training

New sexual-harassment-prevention training requirements may be a little confusing for some New York City employers that will have to follow state and city mandates, noted Jonathan Bing, an attorney with Jackson Lewis in New York City.

The statewide training requirements apply to all employers, whereas the city law applies to employers with 15 or more workers. 

[SHRM members-only HR Q&A: What are the different types of sexual harassment?]

Although employers have until April 2020 to complete the training under the city law, the first training session under the state law must be completed by Oct. 9, 2019. In addition to providing training, employers statewide had to adopt a written sexual-harassment-prevention policy by Oct. 9 of this year and distribute it to employees.

Although the laws overlap, there are some differences. For example, the New York City law is broader and covers more topics, such as bystander-intervention training.

Compliance with the two mandates may be difficult, particularly for smaller businesses that don't have HR professionals who are keeping up with changes and guidance, Bing noted.

Still, all employers can search the state and local government websites to monitor for changes and find compliance tools, guidance and answers to frequently asked questions.

Lactation Accommodations

Beginning March 18, 2019, employers in the Big Apple with at least four workers must provide lactation rooms and create a written lactation-accommodation policy that must be given to workers when they are hired. The city's human rights commission will release a model policy before the effective date.

Covered employers will have to provide a clean space (not a bathroom) for employees to express breast milk. The space must be shielded from view and free from intrusion and have an electrical outlet, a chair and a surface for personal items. The space must be close to running water and the employee's work area, and there also must be a refrigerator near the employee's work area.

Many employers have already been providing such space as an accommodation under existing laws, Drogin said, but the new law covers smaller businesses and goes into greater specificity about what must be provided.

Since the rule impacts the physical worksite, employers will need to do some planning to ensure they have a space available that meets the requirements, Bing said.

There is a limited exception to the requirement if it will cause an undue hardship for the employer.  

Minimum-Wage Hikes

Employers should review their pay practices to ensure employees are earning the appropriate hourly minimum wage or weekly salary, Usenheimer said. Employees have six years to bring a claim under the New York Labor Law and penalties can be significant for employers, "so it's best to stay on top of these upcoming changes," she noted.

On Dec. 31, New York City's minimum wage will rise to $15 an hour for businesses with at least 11 employees and for all fast-food workers regardless of their employer's size. The minimum wage will rise to $13.50 for all other businesses with 10 or fewer employees. By Dec. 31, 2019, employers of all sizes and industries must pay workers in the city at least $15 an hour.

Employers should also note that the salary threshold for the executive and administrative exemptions to overtime-pay requirements will increase for workers in New York City to $1,125 a week ($58,500 annually) if their employer has at least 11 employees and $1,012.50 a week ($52,650 annually) for workers at smaller businesses.

According to the New York Department of Labor, the higher minimum wage and minimum salary thresholds apply to New York City employees even if the employer has fewer than 11 employees in the city, so long as the employer has 11 or more employees at all locations. So, for example, if an employer has 100 employees and only one in New York City, the higher rates would apply to that one employee in the city.

Review 2018 Changes

Now is also a good time for employers to ensure compliance with laws that already took effect in 2018, Usenheimer said.

"Go back and take a look at what you may have missed," Drogin said.

The New York State Paid Family Leave Law took effect in January 2018, and the New York City Paid Safe and Sick Time Act—which expanded the city's sick-leave mandate—took effect in May 2018. Both laws have written policy requirements.

Additionally, amendments to the New York City Human Rights Law require employers to engage in a "cooperative dialogue" with workers who have disabilities and others regarding their accommodation needs. 

"While many of the cooperative dialogue obligations reiterate or expand upon existing requirements for employers when engaging in a robust interactive process, there are also some new obligations under the law," Usenheimer said. 

Look Ahead

New York City employers should also plan for what may be coming down the pike, Bing said. Progressive Democrats recently took control of the state Senate, he said. So it's possible that some New York City requirements will be implemented statewide and that state laws may become more progressive and require employers in the city to adjust their policies again, he noted.

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