We can all agree that women deserve every opportunity to achieve prosperity. Unfortunately, in the year 2016, women are still facing unfair barriers to success, especially in the workplace. The good news is that we’re working together to address these issues and we’re making real progress in New York State.
Last year, the Assembly Majority’s efforts to further women’s rights won a major victory when a number of equality bills were signed into law. Many of the measures took effect this month, and several address women’s rights in the workplace, including prohibiting employers from paying women less than men for performing comparable work, protecting all workers from retaliation for sharing wage information and protecting against sexual harassment, even at small companies that were once exempt. Further, when discrimination does occur, successful plaintiffs can now recoup attorney fees. Employers can also no longer discriminate based on an employee’s familial status, and they must provide reasonable accommodation for pregnant employees who may need adjustments to their work schedules or job duties.
These new laws help break down barriers that can hold women back in their careers or contribute to a hostile work environment. For example, the law now guarantees breastfeeding mothers the right to take reasonable breaks at work to pump breast milk for up to three years after childbirth, and employers are required to make efforts to provide a room where women can have privacy to do so. Additionally, these laws give workers the freedom to discuss their wages, so they can ensure they’re being paid fairly.
The remainder of the new equality laws address domestic violence and human trafficking, which disproportionately affect women. Victims of domestic violence are now protected from being discriminated against or evicted from their homes based on their status as domestic violence victims. The state’s laws against human trafficking are also strengthened, increasing penalties for perpetrators, providing training for law enforcement and empowering victims to sue for damages.
These laws are vital, but it’s important to note that this is just the beginning. We must continue to fight for full women’s equality. Women make up two-thirds of minimum wage workers in the national workforce. It’s time they earn a livable wage. That’s why I’ll keep fighting to raise the minimum wage and help all families get ahead. I’m also working to pass paid family and medical leave to better allow workers to take care of their families and sick relatives without risking their financial security. While this is an issue that affects both genders, working mothers are increasingly the heads of their households and they especially need this protection. Also, we must pass a pay equity law that prohibits the payment of differential wages between employees on the basis of gender, race or national origin. Finally, we must work to enact legislation that would codify Roe v. Wade into state law and protect a woman’s constitutional right to choose.
The Assembly Majority will continue to work to break down any barriers to women’s equality, success and safety. While we have taken a big step forward, there is more work to be done, and we must continue to ensure that we are pioneers for women’s rights in the Empire State.