Historic women’s equality agenda signed into law

Some say the third time is the charm and that was the case for a legislative package known as the Women’s Equality Agenda. I joined with my senate colleagues to pass the eight bills that make up the Women’s Equality Agenda overwhelmingly in both 2013 and 2014, but the assembly failed to take action.

These measures were a priority of mine again this year, and the senate passed the bills in January on the first day we could begin voting on legislation. Later in the session, the assembly also approved the measures and the governor has now signed them into law.

The new laws will enhance the rights of women and protect those who are most vulnerable to abuse and discrimination by: preventing human trafficking; ensuring equal pay for equal work; combating sexual harassment in the workplace; ending gender discrimination in employment, housing and credit decisions; making reasonable work accommodations available for pregnant women; and providing stronger protections for domestic violence victims.



ENSURING EQUAL PAY

A new law (S.1) will help women receive the wages they are entitled to by prohibiting employers from paying employees disparate amounts due to gender. Despite existing protections, women in New York earn 84 percent of what men earn and jobs traditionally held by women pay significantly less than jobs predominantly employing men.

PROHIBITING SEXUAL HARASSMENT

Sexual harassment disproportionately affects women in the workplace. A new law (S.2) protects workers from sexual harassment regardless of the size of the workplace. Under current law, people working at businesses with fewer than four employees cannot file a harassment complaint with the state. More than 60 percent of the state's private employers have fewer than four employees. Now, all employees will be protected from sexual harassment by applying existing protections to businesses of all sizes.

REMOVING BARRIERS TO REMEDYING DISCRIMINATION

A new law (S.3) allows for reasonable attorney’s fees in employment and credit discrimination cases when sex is a basis for discrimination.

STOPPING DISCRIMINATION BASED ON FAMILY STATUS

Working mothers will be helped by a law (S.4) that prevents discrimination in the hiring and promotion of people with families. Employers would be prohibited from denying work or promotions based on family status, such as parents and women who are pregnant. Existing law only prohibits discrimination based on family status in credit and housing, but not employment.

PREVENTING HOUSING DISCRIMINATION AGAINST DOMESTIC VIOLENCE VICTIMS

Discrimination against victims of domestic violence is almost always discrimination against women. Many of these victims are forced to stay with or return to their abusive partners because of a lack of available housing or when they are refused housing. A new law (S.5) makes it illegal to discriminate against domestic violence victims and provides the victims with the option of a civil action if discrimination occurs.

ALLOWING ELECTRONIC FILING FOR ORDERS OF PROTECTION

A new domestic violence law (S.6) creates a pilot program to allow victims to electronically file for orders of protection. It also requires the Office of Court Administration to review and update its policies and services to make sure the services available to all crime victims are adequate and appropriate.

THE TRAFFICKING VICTIMS PROTECTION AND JUSTICE ACT

Tougher penalties against those who buy and sell young women, men, and children are included as part of a new law (S.7) that confronts the massive $32 billion sex trafficking industry. The law will also strengthen the investigative tools used to build a case against traffickers.

ENDING PREGNANCY DISCRIMINATION IN THE WORKPLACE

To help protect pregnant women, a new law (S.8) requires employers to provide reasonable accommodations to employees with pregnancy-related medical conditions. A pregnancy-related condition will be treated as a temporary disability and employers will be required to perform a reasonable accommodation analysis for employees with conditions related to pregnancy and childbirth.

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