New York City and State Protect Workers from Employment Discrimination Due to COVID-19 Quarantine

The COVID-19 pandemic is now in its second wave in New York and much of the rest of the country, which has not come close to recovering from the economic impact of the first wave. Earlier this year, New York State established a system of paid sick leave for people who must quarantine because of a COVID-19 diagnosis or possible exposure to the disease. Employers must allow employees to take time off, whether paid or unpaid, under state law in order to go into quarantine. They must allow employees to return to their jobs when their quarantine ends. Despite these precautions and protections, many workers are still experiencing difficulties with their employers. New York City employment attorneys can help people understand their rights in these unusual times, and the state has set up a system for employment complaints related to COVID-19.

New York City and State Employment Laws

The New York City Human Rights Law (NYCHRL) protects workers with caregiving responsibilities from discrimination by their employers. This applies to people who must care for a minor child, or for a family member or someone living in their home who “relies on [them] for medical care or to meet the needs of daily living.” N.Y.C. Admin. Code § 8-102(2). This means that an employer cannot terminate an employee because of their caregiving obligation, nor may they demote them or deny them employment opportunities like promotions because of these responsibilities.

New York City law does not, however, specifically require employers to accommodate an employee’s caregiver duties, such as by allowing them to take additional time off from work. The NYCHRL and the New York State Human Rights Law (NYSHRL) specifically require reasonable accommodations for disability, pregnancy, childbirth, and conditions related to pregnancy or childbirth, but not caregiver status. Id. at §§ 8-107(15), (22); N.Y. Exec. L. § 296(3). “Disability,” as defined by these statutes, may include certain health conditions that put people at additional risk of complications from COVID-19.

In this sense, city and state law may protect people who are at greater risk of COVID-related complications by requiring employers to make reasonable accommodations for them. For those who rely on a caregiver, however, their caregiver might not be able to claim an accommodation under the NYCHRL or NYSHRL. The state has attempted to address this problem to some extent through expanded sick leave and job protections for people in quarantine, along with other regulations.

Pandemic and Quarantine Job Protections

The New York State Department of Labor (DOL) has issued guidance for workers about their rights under state law and the executive orders issued by the governor during the pandemic. Employees may file a complaint with the DOL for a wide range of misconduct by employers, including:
– Forcing employees to work at a business that should remain closed;
– Failing to take adequate measures to protect employee health;
– Refusing to allow employees to take time off because of illness, COVID-19 or otherwise;
– Refusing to pay earned sick leave; and
– Taking adverse action against an employee because they took time off as allowed by law because they tested positive for COVID-19, or for other reasons related to the pandemic.

If you have experienced pregnancy discrimination or other workplace-related violation of New York City law, the employment attorneys at Phillips & Associates are available to advise you of your options and advocate for your rights. Please contact us online or at (212) 248-7431 today to schedule a free and confidential consultation to see how we can help you.

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