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March 18, 2013

New Law Prohibits New York City Employers From Discriminating Against Unemployed Job Applicants

On March 13, 2013, the New York City Council voted to amend the New York City Human Rights Law to prohibit employers from discriminating against job applicants based on their unemployment status.  The City Council’s vote overrode a prior veto by Mayor Bloomberg.

Under the amended Human Rights Law, with limited exceptions, employers may not refuse to consider currently unemployed persons for job openings.  Moreover, employers may not require that current employment is a requirement for the job opening.  Employers, however, may give priority to, or consider only, applicants for who are currently employed by the employer.  Employers may also inquire into the circumstances surrounding an applicant’s separation from his/her prior job. 

The new amendment, which applies to all New York City employers that employ four or more persons, takes effect on June 11, 2013.  Aggrieved applicants can either file a complaint with the New York City Commission on Human Rights or bring a private lawsuit.  City Commission complaints must be filed with one year of the allegedly unlawful discriminatory conduct, and private lawsuits must be brought within three years.  Potential remedies and damages are broad and include: injunctive relief; hiring, reinstatement or promotion of applicants/employees; front and back pay; compensatory damages; and attorneys’ fees.  The City Commission may also assess penalties of up to $250,000 for violations.

Takeaway for Employers

To help avoid “unemployment discrimination” claims, New York City employers may consider including a statement such as “Unemployment is not a bar to employment” on employment applications.

If you have any questions regarding the amendment to the Human Rights Law or other matters concerning the hiring process, please do not hesitate to contact us.