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New York Discrimination

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In addition to federal nondiscrimination laws, the New York State Human Rights Law provides broad workplace discrimination protections to employees in New York. The state law is discussed in this section.  

Covered Employers  

Until Feb. 8, 2020, the state law generally applies to employers with four or more employees. However, in the case of an action for discrimination based on sex, with respect to sexual harassment only, the term “employer” includes all employers within the state.  Effective Feb. 8, 2020, all provisions of the law apply to all employers in the state. 

Protected Classes  

A protected class is a group of individuals with common characteristics who are legally protected from discrimination on the basis of that characteristic. Protected classes in New York include groups based on the following characteristics: 

  • Age
  • Color
  • Creed (Religion)
  • Disability (including pregnancy and pregnancy-related conditions, which, as of Sept. 13, 2019, specifically include lactation)
  • Domestic violence victim status
  • Familial status
  • Gender expression
  • Gender identity
  • Marital status
  • Military status
  • National origin
  • Predisposing genetic characteristics
  • Race 
  • Sex
  • Sexual orientation
  • Status as a domestic violence victim

As of Nov. 8, 2019, state lawalso prohibits discrimination based on an employee or dependent’s reproductive health decisions. Effective Jan. 7, 2020, employers that provide employee handbooks must ensure that the handbooks include notice of employees’ rights and remedies related to reproductive health decisions. 

Special Note on Religious Discrimination: Religious discrimination includes imposing any terms or conditions that would require an employee to violate or forgo a sincerely held practice of his or her religion, including observing a sabbath or other holy day as prescribed by a religious belief. As of Oct. 8, 2019, religious discrimination also includes discrimination on the basis of wearing any attire, clothing or facial hair in accordance with the requirements of the employee’s religion. The prohibition against religious discrimination contains an exception to protect employers from undue hardships. 

Special Note on Racial Discrimination: Racial discrimination includes discrimination on the basis of traits historically associated with race, such as hair texture and protective hairstyles (including braids, locks, and twists). 

Special Note on Immigration Status: Effective Oct. 25, 2019, New York employers are prohibited from threatening to contact or contacting United States immigration authorities or otherwise reporting or threatening to report an employee’s suspected citizenship or immigration status (or that of the employee’s family or household member) to a federal, state, or local agency because the employee made a good faith complaint that the employer violated the New York Labor Law or an order of the labor commissioner. 

Unlawful Practices 

  • In general: New York labor laws prohibit employers from discriminating against individuals who belong to a protected class. Labor discrimination includes refusing to hire or employ, firing, or otherwise discriminating or retaliating against an individual in compensation or in terms, conditions, or privileges of employment. 
  • Harassment: Effective Oct. 11, 2019, it is illegal for employers to subject any individual to harassment regardless of whether the harassment would be considered severe or pervasive. However, harassment must be above petty slights or trivial inconveniences from the perspective of a reasonable victim of discrimination.
  • Arrests and convictions: Click here for the special rules that apply to arrests and convictions. Click here for more information from the New York State Office of the Attorney General.
  • Equal pay: Beginning Oct. 8, 2019, state law specifically prohibits employers from paying different wages to employees solely because they belong to a protected class. This means that employers must pay the same wages to employees who perform substantially similar work. However, the law allows wage differentials when they are based on one of the following factors:
    • A merit system;
    • A seniority system;
    • A system which measures earnings by quantity or quality of production; or
    • A bona fide factor other than status within one or more protected classes, such as education, training, or experience.  
  • Mandatory arbitration: Beginning Oct. 11, 2019, employers may not require employees to submit their discrimination claims to mandatory arbitration. 

Nondisclosure agreements

Beginning Oct. 11, 2019, employers may not use nondisclosure agreements to prevent the disclosure of the underlying facts and circumstances of a discrimination claim or action. However, an exception exists for situations where the person bringing the claim sets confidentiality as a condition for reaching a settlement, agreement, or other resolution to the claim. In these circumstances, the terms and conditions must be provided in writing to all the parties involved. Nondisclosure agreements are void to the extent they prohibit or restrict individuals from:

  • Initiating or participating in an investigation conducted by the appropriate local, state, or federal agency; or 
  • Filing or disclosing any facts necessary to receive unemployment insurance, Medicaid, or other public benefits to which the individual is entitled.

In addition, beginning Jan. 1, 2020, nondisclosure agreements related to any future discrimination claim are unenforceable unless the employee or potential employee is notified that the agreement does not prohibit the employee from speaking with: 

  • Law enforcement
  • The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission
  • The Division of Human Rights
  • A local commission on human rights
  • The employee’s attorney      

Special Note: Filing a Discrimination Claim   

Workplace sexual harassment claims must be filed within three years of the alleged conduct. Other discrimination claims must be filed within one year.

Please Note: The state laws summaries featured on this site are for general informational purposes only. In addition to state law, certain municipalities may enact legislation that imposes different requirements. State and local laws change frequently and, as such, we cannot guarantee the accuracy or completeness of the information featured in the State Laws section. For more detailed information regarding state or local laws, please contact your state labor department or the appropriate local government agency.

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