On September 6, 2023, New York Governor Kathy Hochul signed a law that prohibits employers from requiring employees to attend employer-sponsored meetings the "primary purpose" of which is to communicate the employer's opinions on religious or political matters, including relating to joining a labor organization. The law became effective immediately, and is another step in the small, but growing number of states, that are campaigning against so-called "captive audience" meetings.
The new law, Senate Bill (S) 4982 and Assembly Bill (A) 6604, modifies New York Labor Law Section 201-D1 and makes it unlawful for any employer or employment agency to refuse to hire, employ or license, or to discharge from employment or otherwise discriminate against an individual in compensation, promotion or terms, conditions or privileges of employment because of an individual's refusal to:
- Attend an employer-sponsored meeting with the employer or its agent, representative or designee, the primary purpose of which is to communicate the employer's opinion concerning religious or political matters; or
- Listen to speech or view communications, the primary purpose of which is to communicate the employer's opinion concerning religious or political matters.
The law defines "political matters" as "matters relating to elections for political office, political parties, legislation, regulation and the decision to join or support any political party or political, civic, community, fraternal or labor organization." "Religious matters" are defined as "matters relating to religious affiliation and practice and the decision to join or support any religious organization or association."
The new law expressly does not prohibit the following:
- An employer or its agent, representative or designee from communicating to its employees any information that the employer is required by law to communicate, but only to the extent of such legal requirement;
- An employer or its agent, representative or designee from communicating to its employees any information that is necessary for such employees to perform their job duties;
- An institution of higher education, or any agent, representative or designee of such institution, from meeting with or participating in any communications with its employees that are part of coursework, any symposia or an academic program at such institution;
- Casual conversations between employees or between an employee and an agent, representative or designee of an employer, provided participation in such conversation is not required; or
- A requirement limited to the employer's managerial and supervisory employees.
Further, the law does not apply to a religious corporation, entity, association, educational institution or society that is exempt from the requirements of Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 with respect to speech regarding religious matters to employees who perform work connected with the activities undertaken by such an entity.
Employers must post a sign at every location where notices to employees are normally posted to inform employees of their rights pursuant to Section 201-D. No further guidance has been issued regarding the contents of what the posting must include.
Bans on "Captive Audience" Meetings in Other Jurisdictions
New York joins a growing list of states to ban "captive audience" meetings, including Connecticut, Maine, Minnesota and Oregon. Legal challenges, however, may be forthcoming based on the grounds that these laws may be preempted by the National Labor Relations Act.
Penalties and Enforcement
Under Section 201-D, the Attorney General may seek an order to enjoin or restrain an employer from continuing to violate the law. The law also allows for the imposition of civil penalties in the amount of $300 for the first violation and $500 for each subsequent violation. In addition, an aggrieved individual may commence an action for equitable relief and damages.
Takeaways and Best Practices
In light of the new law, New York employers should review their practices and policies regarding communicating with employees about religious or political matters. Employers should also post signage informing employees of their rights under the new law. Employers should also consult with their counsel to discuss potential options to provide information to employees about the employer's position on topics such as union organizing in compliance with the law's new requirements. We will continue monitoring developments on how this law, and provide updates as new information becomes available.
1. Section 201-D generally prohibits employers from discriminating against employees for engaging in legal recreational activities outside of work, including political activities.
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