New York Governor Andrew Cuomo just signed into law several bills strengthening protections for women in the workplace as well as victims of sex trafficking, sexual harassment, and domestic violence in an effort to further women’s equality in the state.
The new laws close loopholes that had allowed employers to have policies against sharing wage information and increases the amount of damages that can be collected in cases of wage theft; expands protections against workplace sexual harassment to include all employers, not just those with more than four employees; and allows recovery of attorneys’ fees by successful plaintiffs in sex discrimination in employment and credit cases. One of the bills now requires employers to provide “reasonable accommodation for pregnant employees,” thus adding protections for women workers from pregnancy discrimination. In addition, the bills package includes provisions to end housing discrimination against victims of domestic violence and increases penalties against sex traffickers.
The original package of bills, called the Women’s Equality Act, had also contained legislation codifying into law the Supreme Court’s 1973 decision Roe v. Wade and ensuring women in New York access to abortion services within 24 weeks of pregnancy or when necessary to protect her life, but was ultimately defeated and ruled “not germane” on a Senate vote of 32-30.
Despite the notable exclusion, NOW NY President Sonia Ossorio applauded Wednesday’s signing. “These anti-discrimination bills address key challenges that span a woman’s life,” said Ossorio. “We are leveling the playing field for women at work and improving the lives of families at home.”
But according to Dina Bakst, co-founder of A Better Balance, an organization that champions legislation to achieve a healthy work-life balance for families across the country, women still have a long road ahead. “We still have our work cut out for us to ensure full women’s equality across the state,” said Bakst, “but this huge step, years in the making, will make an enormous difference for women and families in New York.”
Media Resources: New York State Press Release 10/21/15; A Better Balance Press Release 10/21/15