On March 21, 2018, Washington Governor Jay Inslee signed bill SB 5996 (the “Law”), which prohibits employers from requiring as a condition of employment that employees sign a nondisclosure agreement preventing them from discussing workplace sexual harassment or sexual assault. The Law goes into effect on June 7, 2018.

In addition to sexual offenses in the workplace, the Law covers such incidents that occur at work-related events “coordinated by or through the employer,” or between employees, or between an employer and an employee off the employment premises. The new Law also prevents employers from retaliating against employees who disclose workplace sexual harassment or sexual assault.

Notably, however, the Law does not prohibit an employer from including confidentiality provisions in a settlement agreement with an employee regarding sexual harassment allegations. Further, the Law provides exceptions for human resources, supervisory, and managerial staff who are expected to maintain confidentiality as part of their jobs. It also excludes employees who participate in an “open and ongoing” sexual harassment investigation and are requested to maintain confidentiality during that investigation.

Under the Law, “sexual harassment” is defined broadly to mean unwelcome sexual advances, requests for sexual favors, sexually motivated physical contact, or other verbal or physical conduct or communication of a sexual nature if submission to that conduct or communication is, among other things, used as a factor in decisions affecting that individual’s employment or creates a hostile environment. “Sexual assault” is similarly defined as any type of sexual contact or behavior that occurs without the explicit consent of the recipient.

Employers in other states should be aware that the kind of nondisclosure agreements banned by the new Washington law also may be unlawful under federal labor laws protecting concerted activity (i.e., with at least one other employee) for the employees’ mutual aid or protection.

State Commission to Develop Model Policies and Best Practices

Also on March 21, 2018, Governor Inslee signed bill SB 6471, which directs the Washington State Human Rights Commission to create a “work group” to develop model policies and best practices for employers and employees to keep workplaces safe from sexual harassment. The bill requires the agency to adopt the model policies and best practices developed by the work group and to post them on the agency’s website by January 1, 2019.

Our colleagues , at Epstein Becker Green, have a post on the Health Employment and Labor blog that will be of interest to many of our readers in the retail industry: “Sixth Circuit Finds Title VII Covers Discrimination Based on Transgender Status.”

Following is an excerpt:

In a significant decision on Wednesday, March 6, 2018, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit held in EEOC v. R.G. &. G.R. Harris Funeral Homes that discrimination against a worker on the basis of gender identity or transitioning status constitutes sex discrimination that violates Title VII.

In R.G. & G.R., the funeral home’s owner fired funeral director Aime Stephens after she informed him she intended to begin a gender transition and present herself as a woman at work. In finding gender identity to be covered by Title VII, the Sixth Circuit also upheld the EEOC’s claim that the funeral home’s dress code, which has different dress and grooming instructions for men and women, discriminates on the basis of sex. …

Read the full post here.

On January 11, New York’s City Council passed Int. No. 1186-A, which amends the New York City Human Rights Law to expand the definition of the terms “sexual orientation” and “gender.”  Previously, the law defined sexual orientation as meaning “heterosexuality, homosexuality, or bisexuality.” The new definition takes a broader view and offers a more nuanced definition that recognizes a spectrum of sexual orientations, including asexuality and pansexuality.  As amended, the law defines sexual orientation as:

[A]n individual’s actual or perceived romantic, physical or sexual attraction to other persons, or lack thereof, on the basis of gender. A continuum of sexual orientation exists and includes, but is not limited to, heterosexuality, homosexuality, bisexuality, asexuality, and pansexuality.

The law also offers clarity on the definition of “gender,” and continues to include a person’s gender-related self-image, appearance, behavior, expression, or other gender-related characteristic within its scope.

The new law will take effect on May 11, 2018.

Employers in New York City are required to provide their employees with reasonable accommodations related to childbirth and pregnancy. The New York City Commission on Human Rights has published a new factsheet and notice. The notice should be provided to all employees upon hire, and posted in the workplace to provide employees with notice of their rights under the NYC Human Rights Law.

The notice and factsheet outline employers’ responsibilities with respect to pregnant employees, and recommend that employers work with employees to implement accommodations that recognize employee contributions to the workplace and help keep them in the workplace for as long as possible. The notice and factsheet also provide employees with examples of reasonable accommodations, such as breaks to rest or use the bathroom while at work, and time and space to express breast milk at work.

In December 2016 Philadelphia’s City Council passed a Wage Equity Ordinance (“Ordinance”) prohibiting employers from asking applicants for their salary history or to retaliate against a prospective employee for failing to answer such a question.  The law, which was to become effective May 23, 2017, has been stayed pending resolution of legal challenge by the Chamber of Commerce for Greater Philadelphia, alleging that the law violates employers’ First Amendment rights.

Nevertheless, on October 24, 2017, the Philadelphia Commission on Human Relations adopted a regulation  (“Regulation”) implementing the Ordinance. The Regulation seeks to clarify what employers may and may not ask and to further define which employers and applicants are covered by the Ordinance.

Covered Employers and Applicants

The Regulation specifies that the Ordinance the term “Employer” applies only to persons who are interviewing applicants with the intention of filling a position located within the City.

Prohibited Inquiries

Under the Regulation, an employer “shall not include a question on paper or electronic applications asking Prospective Employees to provide their salary history at any previous position.” The Regulation also prohibits employers from asking current employees seeking a new position (located in Philadelphia) about the employee’s wage history from any previous employer.

Permissible Inquiries

Employers may inquire into the applicant’s salary expectations, skill level, and experience relative to the position sought. In addition, employers may use voluntary salary history disclosures an applicant makes “knowingly and willingly” during an interview, provided it is not in response to a question from an employer.

Action Items

Although the Ordinance is currently on hold, employers with positions or offices in Philadelphia may nevertheless wish to prepare for the possibility that the law will become effective by:

  • Identifying jobs that are based in Philadelphia. This will be especially important for positions where an employee may work in more than one location.
  • Preparing a Philadelphia-specific employment application that removes any request for salary history.  The ordinance does not expressly state that it is sufficient to have an instruction on the employment application that directs Philadelphia applicants not to answer salary history questions.

On October 23, 2017, New York Governor Andrew Cuomo signed legislation that amends the Clean Indoor Air Act to ban the use of electronic cigarettes (“e-cigarettes”) everywhere that smoking traditional tobacco products is prohibited.  With this amendment, the Clean Indoor Air Act will prohibit both smoking and vaping in certain indoor areas, including places of employment, as well as certain outdoor areas accessible to the public. This legislation will become effective on November 22, 2017.  Prior to this date,  any required posters and signs will need to be updated to include reference to “No Vaping” or “Vaping” along with the “No Smoking” or “Smoking” signs, or international “No Smoking” symbol.