New Discrimination Laws and the Changing Social Landscape


John Wiese



The modern workforce is undergoing a dramatic shift, and it’s being reflected in some new legislation. Workplace culture, respect, and inclusion are taking the limelight like never before as evidenced in a consistent trend of new laws, regulations and court cases. It’s crucial that your organization keep up. California, New York, and Washington have ramped protections for a number of characteristics, and New Jersey is not far behind. New York has changed what is required to prove unlawful harassment.

Following New York City’s legal enforcement, California recently weighed in on issues related to natural hairstyles – declaring it unlawful to use that as a basis for making discriminatory employment decisions. Signed into action in July, this bill prohibits policies that would affect people of color disproportionately. This is about 6 months after the New York City Commission on Human Rights issued a very similar legal enforcement guidance. Now, a similar bill is also circulating around New Jersey legislators.

Washington state is also expanding the definition of protected characteristics to go beyond race, age, and other typical classes. In July, the Washington Supreme Court held that employers cannot discriminate against employees or job applicants based on obesity. This is novel as it expands disability discrimination laws statewide to include a far greater number of people.

In the same vein as these expanded protections, is New York state’s removal of “severe and pervasive” from their legal definition of sexual harassment. Instead of “severe and pervasive, the issue will be if the harassment “subjects an individual to inferior terms, conditions, or privileges of employment because of the individual’s membership in one or more” protected categories. We explore this in greater detail in an earlier blog post. This change in language lowers the bar for employers to be held accountable for sexual harassment. The new law protects employees’ rights to file complaints with employers and extends the statute of limitations for sexual harassment claims from one year to three years.

These laws are a clear response to changing social norms that are reverberating throughout the workforce. People bring their whole selves to work and we’re experiencing a time of great social change. Workplace culture is taking the stage, and legislators are responding accordingly. What comes next, and how will these laws continue to evolve? Our laws will continue to respond to changing social norms and reflect our evolving multicultural, multigenerational workforce, with all the different beliefs and norms flowing from our changing demographics.
Emtrain went Live on LinkedIn on Tuesday September 10th; CEO Janine Yancey and Patti Perez VP of Workplace Strategy discussed these new regulations and what it means about our culture.

Our Preventing Workplace Harassment Course is continually updated to reflect new laws, regulations and court decisions as they come into effect. Click here to request a demo.


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John Wiese

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