NYC bill would ban agreements that shorten discrimination claim filing periods

The New York City Council is considering a local law that would strengthen workers’ ability to report and seek redress for alleged workplace misconduct.

Under current law, workers have one year to file a complaint with the New York City Commission on Human Rights for a claim of discrimination, harassment or violence, and up to three years to file a gender-based harassment claim. They also have three years to file a lawsuit. However, employers may ask workers to sign agreements that shorten those periods. 

A bill before the council would render “unenforceable and void” any such agreement. 

“Too many employees have been unknowingly signing away their rights and their protections,” Lincoln Restler, who introduced the bill, testified at a committee hearing Feb. 29. 

“Unfortunately some of the largest employers in the state of New York are perpetuating this practice,” he continued, naming Northwell Health, Raymour & Flanigan and FedEx. 

According to Restler, many New York employers give employees a six-month window to pursue legal action — a time period he maintained is insufficient. “For those who have been victims of harassment or discrimination, it takes time to process what’s occurred, it takes time to find a lawyer, it takes time to file legal action,” he said. 

In recent years, lawmakers have moved to restrict the types of agreements employers can ask workers to sign, arguing they take away power from employees who have experienced misconduct.

Some of these efforts have come at the federal level. In 2022, President Joe Biden signed into law a bipartisan bill that invalidated mandatory arbitration agreements in cases of sexual assault or sexual harassment. 

Last year, Lift Our Voices, an advocacy group opposed to mandatory arbitration agreements, told HR Dive it aimed to invalidate mandatory arbitration for every protected class covered by Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964. Lift Our Voices was co-founded by former Fox News hosts Gretchen Carlson and Julie Roginsky; Carlson played a key role in garnering support for the 2022 bill.

Committee members did not take immediate action on the New York City proposal Thursday.