New law bars unemployment discrimination in New York City

Beginning in June 2013, New York City job applicants will have expanded protection against discriminatory practices by potential employers. The New York City Council recently passed an amendment to the New York City Human Rights Law that adds a worker's employment status to the list of protected classes for job applicants, along with existing protections for other worker classifications like race, gender and sexual orientation.

New York is one of only a handful of U.S. cities to have enacted a law barring employment discrimination on the basis of an applicant's joblessness. Unlike similar laws in other areas of the country, however, the New York measure contains a provision that will allow job applicants to sue for damages if they are rejected by potential employers because of their unemployment status.

New Yorkers split on unemployment discrimination law

Supporters of the new law say it will help improve the employment prospects for people who are out of work and stuck in a vicious cycle of long-term joblessness. As many jobseekers attest, finding work is often more difficult for those who are not already employed, which can compound the struggles of those who are out of work. According to the Bureau of Labor and Statistics, one in three unemployed jobseekers has been out of work for at least six months.

Proponents of the unemployment discrimination law hope that the measure will help improve the plight of unemployed jobseekers, and the economy as a whole, by giving jobless applicants a better chance at re-entering the workforce.

Not all New Yorkers approve of the new law, however. Opponents of the legislation included New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg, whose veto of the bill was overridden by the City Council. Some New York City business owners have also criticized the measure, expressing fears that it may expose them to baseless lawsuits brought by applicants who are rejected for non-discriminatory reasons.

Law bars both direct and indirect discrimination

Under the new law, New York City employers will be barred from using an applicant's jobless status as the basis for decisions about hiring, compensation or other employment-related decisions. Employers will also be prohibited from stating in help wanted advertisements that only currently employed applicants will be considered for a position.

Along with barring explicitly discriminatory hiring practices, the legislation also prohibits more subtle forms of discrimination against the unemployed. Rejected job jobseekers may sue a New York City employer for unemployment discrimination if they believe that the company's hiring practices or policies, when taken as a whole, have a disproportionately negative impact on unemployed applicants. Thus, a company may still be liable for discrimination even if its hiring policies appear facially neutral with regard to an applicant's unemployment status.

Legal help for New York businesses and job applicants

New York workers who believe they have been affected by illegal discrimination in the workplace should consult with an experienced employment lawyer to learn more about their rights and to discuss the possibility of seeking a resolution through the legal system. Likewise, New York City business owners wishing to protect themselves from potential liability under the new law should speak with an attorney who can help them review their hiring policies to ensure that they comply with all relevant employment laws.