As of early 2020, the unemployment rate in the U.S. is continuing a downward trend that began several years ago. These numbers, however, usually only show the percentage of the population that is able to work and actively seeking work. It does not include people who are under-employed, can only find part-time or temporary work, or have given up on finding a job. The longer a person goes without a job, the more difficult it can be for them to find one. The New York City unemployment discrimination law is one of the few in the nation to protect against automatic dismissal of job applicants who have been out of work. This type of discrimination can not only perpetuate unemployment, it can also overlap with other types of unlawful discrimination.
Unemployment Discrimination Under New York City Law
The New York City Human Rights Law (NYCHRL) prohibits employment discrimination on the basis of an individual’s unemployment. N.Y.C. Admin. Code § 8-107(21). It defines unemployment as being out of work despite being able to start working and actively looking for a job. Id. at § 8-102.
Employers in New York City may not advertise that a job is only open to individuals who are not currently unemployed, or that they will not consider unemployed applicants. They may not base employment decisions, including hiring, rate of pay, and other matters, on an applicant’s unemployment. They may, however, inquire about why an applicant has been out of work. They may consider unemployment as a factor in their decision-making if they have “a substantially job-related reason for doing so.” Id. at § 8-107(21)(b)(1).
In November 2019, the New York Times published an article that collected comments left by readers who, after leaving or losing their jobs, remained out of work in their chosen careers. Many of them had new jobs that were not commensurate with their levels of education or experience. Others had given up after years of looking for a new job. The common thread explored by the article was age: Nearly every person quoted had lost employment opportunities to younger applicants.
Part of what makes unemployment so insidious in these sorts of circumstances is that employers can use multiple justifications for refusing to hire someone. The law may still offer some hope, though. Age discrimination violates not only the NYCHRL, but also federal law in many circumstances. The Age Discrimination in Employment Act (ADEA) prohibits discrimination on the basis of age against people who are at least forty years old.
Effects of Unemployment
Unemployment can have a range of negative impacts on an individual. Some of these effects can also lead to potential employment discrimination. A rather extensive body of research demonstrates the ways extended unemployment can affect mental health. Those effects can, in turn, make it more difficult to find a job. Laws against disability discrimination, including the NYCHRL and the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), include some forms of mental illness in their definition of “disability.” The extent to which these laws can help in situations of unemployment remains unclear.
The knowledgeable and skilled employment attorneys at Phillips & Associates represent employees, former employees, and job applicants in New York City, helping them assert their rights in claims for unlawful practices such as unemployment discrimination under city, state, and federal law. To schedule a free and confidential consultation to see how we can help you, please contact us today online or at (212) 248-7431.