Hochul signs new legislation to protect against political and religious discrimination.
This autumn, New York Governor Kathy Hochul signed a bill into law that prohibits employers from disciplining workers who chose not to participate in meetings of political and religious matters. State Senator Jessica Ramos, the chair of the Senate Committee on Labor, remarked:
You don’t check your first amendment rights and freedom of conscience at the door when you clock in at work. Political, partisan, and religious speech coming from an employer can be intimidating. But workers made it clear they are willing to fight back. We want to acknowledge their courage. I want to thank the Governor for supporting the surge of organizing being led by young people in New York.
While it’s nothing new to see New York government protecting Newe York workers, it’s always important that companies know about new legislation.
The law addresses certain activities for which employees can’t be penalized, such as legal cannabis usage, union membership, and of course, the refusal to attend political or religious meetings and events. Essentially, it’s now unlawful for employers to penalize workers who chose not to engage in meetings whose sole purpose is to communicate political messages or religious views. In the context of Labor Law § 201-d, political activity encompasses ideas of running for office, candidate fundraising, and political party advocating, while political matters detail the decision to associate with a certain party, support a labor organization, or personally examine legislation.
While the workplace can be a hub for discussion, it’s important that companies and their managers understand the nature of these new provisions. For example, employers can’t force anyone into a discussion of political matters or evaluate them accordingly. This even includes topics of mainstream participation, such as popular religious holidays. An employee skipping out on the annual Christmas party, or requesting time off to celebrate a holiday you don’t recognize, shouldn’t be reason for discipline unless the conduct affrects the health and well-being of other employees within the workplace.
Considering an individual’s time spent outside of work, it’s still unlawful for an employer to retaliate based on an employee’s political activities. For instance, if you own a business that distributes pharmaceuticals, yet discover that one of your employees contributes to a campaign advocating for lower drug costs and widespread health care benefits, this information can’t influence their employment status. And, if you are caught acting in ways that discriminate against their personal political or religious affiliations, a court may impose a civil penalty in the amount of three hundred dollars for the first offense and five hundred dollars for each following offense. Furthermore, employees who believe they’re affected by a this conduct are entitled to equitable relief which typically is a court ordering that the company can’t act in a certain manner.
If you’re an entrepreneur, business owner, or manager wondering what you may say or do in the workplace when it comes to personal belief systems, think before you speak. Ask yourself if your statements or actions are welcoming or if they promote prejudice. When speaking with employees, don’t pry for their personal information, especially if you can see that they’re visibly uncomfortable. Instead of focusing on what you can’t say, focus your conversation on the hundreds of other benign topics that you can discuss.
If you work at a church and employees are debating aspects of religion, there’s no violation under Labor Law § 201-d. But in every other non-religious place of work, however, it’s now a requirement that employers post a sign informing employees of their rights when it comes to free speech in the workplace.
Though navigating these new nuances may be difficult, The Coppola Firm is here to help.
You can reach us with any employment law concerns at 716.839.9700 or email us at email@example.com.