know about Court permanently bars New York from enforcing employee reproductive rights notification provision | Schoeneck & King Bonds PLLC
On March 29, 2022, a federal court in upstate New York permanently barred New York State from requiring employers to include a government-issued “notice” about workers’ rights and remedies in their employee handbooks regarding reproductive health decisions.
The original law, Section 203-e of the New York Labor Law, was enacted in November 2019 and prohibits employers from discriminating or retaliating against employees based on their reproductive health decisions, including the use or access to a particular drug, device, or medical service. . The law also required employers to publish a notice of these employee rights and remedies in their employee handbooks. Judge McAvoy of the Northern District of New York struck down this particular notification requirement. For more information on the background to Section 203-e, see our previous blog post.
In this recent case, subtitled CompassCare et al. v. Cuomo, several religious organizations filed for injunctions against the state, claiming that the notice provision in Section 203-e violates the First Amendment to the United States Constitution. These plaintiffs argued that the waived requirement forced them to convey a message with which they disagree (specifically, as it undermines their purpose as anti-abortion organizations). In response, New York State attorneys argued that the notice provision only requires the inclusion of factual information in an employee handbook about the existence of rights under New York law. Additionally, state representatives argued that covered employers are not required to take a position on the statute or its protections, and the law does not even require employers to provide written handbooks to employees in the first place.
The Court agreed with the plaintiffs and found that the notice provision of the law violates the First Amendment. More specifically, the Court found that the notice requirement forced the plaintiffs to deliver a message contrary to their religious beliefs in relation to reproductive health decisions. The Court reasoned that the plaintiffs’ employee handbooks contain rules that govern the workplace, the values of the organizations, and the religious perspective that guides the operations of the organizations. Therefore, the Court held:
“[R]requiring Plaintiffs to also include in those manuals a statement that the law protects employees who behave contrary to that promoted by Plaintiffs would force them to promote a message about conduct contrary to their religious perspective.”
Applying a “close scrutiny” analysis of the constitutional question, the Court found that, although the state has a compelling interest in protecting employee privacy in relation to reproductive health decisions, state officials failed to show that the requirement notification was the least restrictive means of achieving that goal. compelling interest. In reaching this conclusion, the Court highlighted evidence showing that the state has previously provided information on workers’ rights and remedies “in a variety of other ways,” in addition to the mandatory publication of manuals. These other forms included, according to the Court, “advertising the [statutory] provision in general, the production of posters to be placed in view of the workers in the workplace, and in general the declarations of the rights of the workers provided by the [New York] Department [of Labor] itself.” As such, the Court found less restrictive methods available that would not require the plaintiffs to produce such speech themselves or to include the speech in a manual produced with the support of the employer. It is currently uncertain whether the state intends or not to appeal the Court’s decision.
In particular, Judge McAvoy’s ruling did not invalidate the law’s protections for employees and their reproductive choices; those protections against discrimination and retaliation remain in place. And while the statute’s “notice” requirement was found to violate the First Amendment, the decision does not compel covered employers to remove any existing language from the manual. Before taking such action, employers should discuss this possible course of action with legal counsel.