two men shaking hands at an interview unemployed discrimination

New York City employers are prohibited by law from discriminating against unemployed job applicants. The legal prohibition against unemployment discrimination is just one of New York City’s sweeping anti-discrimination laws. In 2013, New York City became one of only a few local governments to prohibit employers from making employment decisions based on an applicant’s current employment status. In doing so, the City expanded categories protected from discrimination to include employment status. Unemployed job applicants have a legal right to file a discrimination complaint when employers purposefully deny them a position based on their employment status. 

New York City unemployed job applicants have a right to file a private civil court action against an employer for unemployment discrimination. Alternatively, potential employees can file a complaint with New York City’s Commission on Human Rights alleging discrimination based on being unemployed. If you’ve suffered employment status discrimination in New York City, you might be entitled to remedies, including compensation. At Lipsky Lowe LLP, our experienced employment law attorneys have helped many clients secure compensation for employment-based discrimination. To learn how one of our skilled attorneys can help you fight for your rights, contact our New York City law firm today.

New York’s Prohibition of Discrimination Based on Unemployment Status

New York City’s 2013 law prohibits employers from making employment decisions based on an applicant’s unemployment status. To enact the legislation, New York City Council had to override Mayor Bloomberg’s veto. New York City’s law against employment status discrimination goes further than other similar laws passed in other jurisdictions. Under New York City law, job applicants can choose to file a private civil court action against an employer. 

What Qualifies as Discrimination Based on Employment Status?

New York City’s law prohibits employers and employment agencies from engaging in discrimination based on employment status. Employers cannot make any hiring or compensation decisions based on the unemployment status of the job applicant. Similarly, employers cannot make decisions regarding the terms, conditions, or privileges of employment based on the applicant’s current employment status. Further, under New York City law, employers and employment agencies are prohibited from producing any advertisement that states that being currently employed is a prerequisite for the job. 

Employment interviewers should avoid asking applicants questions regarding their employment. Asking questions regarding an applicant’s level of experience and skill does not violate New York City’s anti-discrimination law. However, an interviewer who directly asks an applicant whether not the applicant is currently employed may violate the anti-discrimination lawsuit. Similarly, an interviewer who asks about gaps in an employee’s employment history may violate New York City’s law. 

Potential employees should pay attention to the questions asked by a potential employer in the interview process. Interviewers should focus on the applicant’s skills and ability to perform the job functions properly. When an applicant notices that the interview process focuses on his or her lack of current employment, the applicant may have a legal right to bring a discrimination claim. 

Employers Cannot Discriminate Based on Gaps in An Applicant’s Employment History

Parents who exit the professional workforce to take time to raise children are at risk of discrimination based on employment status. New York City employers cannot deny an applicant a position simply because the applicant took 5, 10, or 20 years to act as a stay-at-home parent. 

Similarly, employers cannot deny applicants who’ve completed serving a jail or prison term based on their gap in employment or lack of current employment. An employer could legally deny a job to an applicant who has committed a felony. However, the employer cannot legally deny an applicant because he hasn’t had a job outside of the prison system for several years. 

Exceptions to New York City’s Anti-Discrimination Law

The anti-discrimination law does contain several notable exceptions. When employers have a  substantially job-related reason for considering the employment status of an applicant, the employer may do so. This exception would be quite challenging to prove. To meet the requirements for this exception, the employer must show that having active and current employment is an essential function of the job. 

The law allows employers to inquire into why an applicant separated from his or her previous employment position. An employer might ask an applicant if he or she left a job for cause, poor performance, or misconduct. Questions related to past employment may not constitute discrimination. However, employers who ask questions may still violate the employment status discrimination provision, especially when the employer ultimately refused to offer the applicant a position.

A third exception allows employers to advertise a job opening that requires “substantially job-related qualifications,” including requiring a valid occupational or professional license. Employers may require applicants to have significant, relevant training and licensure. Employers may make compensation decisions and terms of employment decisions based on the applicant’s previous work experience. Finally, employers may legally limit the pool of applicants to their current employees and disallow outside applicants from applying.

Compensation Available for the Unemployed

When employers discriminate based on employment status, potential employees have a cause of action to file a civil personal injury lawsuit. Successful plaintiffs might be entitled to the following types of damages:

  • Compensatory damages
  • Punitive damages
  • Injunctive relief
  • Attorneys’ fees and costs

Potential employees who file an unemployment discrimination claim with the New York City Commission on Human rights may be entitled to the following damages:

  • A requirement that the employer hires the employee to the position for which he applied
  • Punitive damages
  • Injunctive relief
  • Attorneys’ fees and costs
  • Back pay and front pay

Additionally, when the Commission rules that the employer violated the law, it can require the employer to pay fines up to $250,000.

The Employment Attorneys at Lipsky Lowe LLP Can Help the Unemployed

If you’ve faced employment status discrimination in a job interview or application process, you may be entitled to damages. The skilled employment attorneys at Lipsky Lowe LLP have helped many New York City residents obtain compensation for employment-based discrimination. Contact our law firm today to learn how we can help you fight for your rights.