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New York City Bans Employment Status Discrimination

In the wake of America’s economic crisis, many workers through no fault of their own were being overlooked and outright discriminated against for employment.
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One ad in particular sparked national outrage when a company in Texas indicated that the unemployed need not apply.

Now, our Great Neck employment lawyers know it’s been little more than a month since New York City passed a new law barring businesses from rejecting job applicants solely on the basis of unemployment. The measure passed 44-4 and specifically outlaws help wanted ads requiring that potential job candidates be currently employed.

The idea of course is to help New Yorkers get back on their feet. In New York state, our unemployment rate is 8.2 percent. It’s markedly higher in New York City at 9.1 percent. Those numbers are skewed for minorities – 13.6 percent for African Americans and 10 percent for Latinos.

A survey of hiring managers last year found that unemployed job candidates were viewed as less qualified, even when they had the exact same resume as someone who was currently employed. This provided insight as to why unemployment begets unemployment. It’s not a matter of laziness. It’s a matter of opportunity denied on an illogical basis, and what’s more, it hurts us all as it prolongs economic recovery.

Council support was able to override a veto by Mayor Michael Bloomberg, who argued that such a measure would hurt businesses who are already fighting to stay open. The biggest concern, he said, is that a flood of “frivolous litigation” would hurt more than it would help.

One would have to ask – help and hurt whom? It’s only “frivolous” until you are the one who is discriminated against for a layoff or job loss over which you had no control. When you are the one who is qualified, able and eager to work, yet you are struggling to scrape by because no one will hire you – it’s not so frivolous anymore.

What’s more, other places that have passed very similar measures (New Jersey and Oregon) haven’t noted a great uptick in litigation. One would hope that’s because businesses are taking heed.

In New York City, the new law holds that an employer found in violation could be required to pay a civil penalty of up to $250,000, not including statutory fines and attorneys’ fees.

Still, there is some leeway provided for employers. Companies are allowed to consider an applicant’s unemployed status as long as there is a substantial, job-related reason to do so.

A similar measure at the federal level was proposed by President Barack Obama in 2011, with the President saying that requiring a candidate have a job to get a job “makes no sense.” It wouldn’t have made employment status a protected class, like how we view race or sex or religion, but it would have given unemployed job candidates a leg up. However, the bill, titled the American Jobs Act, ultimately faltered in Congress.

New York City applicants who feel they have been discriminated against on the basis of their employment status can file a complaint with the city’s Human Rights Commission, and should contact an experienced employment lawyer as soon as possible.

The Law Offices of Ira S. Newman provides employment litigation representation in New York City, Long Island, Great Neck and throughout the area. Call 516-487-7375 or send us an e-mail.

Additional Resources:
Unemployment Discrimination Banned By New York Council Bill, Jan. 23, 2013, By Arthur Delaney, The Huffington Post
Additional Resources:
NYC Tight-Lipped On Employment Lawsuit Settlements, Dec. 20, 2013, Great Neck Employment Lawyer Blog