New York Women’s Equality Act takes effect January 19

by Edward O. Sweeney

Several new laws that are part of New York’s Women’s Equality Act take effect on January 19, meaning employers need to understand the new protections related to equal pay, sexual harassment, and familial and pregnancy discrimination in the workplace.  Manager Balancing Out A Female And A Male Worker

One of the new laws amends New York state’s Labor Law § 194, commonly referred to as the Equal Pay Law. The law already requires employers to pay men and women equally for the same work unless they can show that the difference in pay is based on a seniority system, a merit system, a quantity or quality metric, or “any factor other than sex.” The new law replaces the “any factor other than sex” requirement with a “bona fide factor other than sex” requirement.

The new bona fide factor—such as an employee’s education, training, or experience—must be job-related and consistent with business necessity. But it won’t be applicable if an employee can show that (1) reliance on the bona fide factor has a disparate impact based on sex, (2) there is an alternative practice that wouldn’t lead to a disparate impact, and (3) the employer refused to adopt the alternative practice.

The amended law also bars employers from prohibiting employees (both male and female) from discussing or disclosing their wage information, but an employer may develop a written policy that establishes reasonable workplace and workday limitations on the time, place, and manner for employee wage discussions.

In addition, the new law subjects employers to higher penalties for violations equal to three times the amount of unpaid wages.

Among the other changes the new law makes, employers will be prohibited from discrimination based on familial status, employers will be required to provide reasonable accommodations to employees with pregnancy-related conditions unless the accommodations would impose an undue hardship, and employers will be prohibited from engaging in sexual harassment. Also, employees who prevail on claims will be entitled to reasonable attorneys’ fees.

For more information on New York’s Women’s Equality Act, see the December 2015 issue of New York Employment Law Letter.

Edward O. Sweeney is an attorney with Coughlin & Gerhart, LLP  in Binghamton, New York. He can be reached at