New York City Laws on Caregiver Discrimination During the Coronavirus Pandemic

The global coronavirus pandemic has hit New York City particularly hard. Many people have concerns not only about their own health, but the health of family members who require care. New York City employment discrimination laws protected workers with caregiver responsibilities before the coronavirus arrived. Quarantine and isolation have added a new dimension to the concept of a “caregiver.” Laws passed by the federal and state governments to address problems caused by the pandemic may offer additional protections against discrimination and retaliation based on an employee’s caregiving responsibilities.

What Is Caregiver Discrimination?

The New York City Human Rights Law (NYCHRL) prohibits discrimination by employers on the basis of “caregiver status.” It defines a “caregiver” as someone “who provides direct and ongoing care for a minor child or a care recipient.” The term “care recipient” can refer to anyone living in the caregiver’s home; or a “covered relative” like a parent, spouse, sibling, child, grandchild, or grandparent, whether or not they live with the caregiver. In either case, the care recipient must need the caregiver’s assistance with “medical care or to meet the needs of daily living.” Id.

The NYCHRL does not define the term “direct and ongoing care,” and it does not appear that any court has ruled on its specific meaning. A plain-language interpretation suggests that it means care that requires a substantial amount of the caregiver’s time and attention. This could therefore include:
– The caregiver’s minor child, who resides with the caregiver;
– The caregiver’s minor child who resides elsewhere, but needs regular care from the caregiver;
– A person who lives with the caregiver, regardless of whether they are related; or
– A relative who does not reside with the caregiver.

Employers may not fire an employee, or take other adverse actions against them, solely because they have caregiver responsibilities outside of work. An employer may not refuse to hire someone, such as a single parent or a person who lives with an ailing parent, because of those responsibilities.

Emergency Laws Protecting Caregivers

The coronavirus pandemic has resulted in nationwide school closures. Quarantine orders require people who have been diagnosed with or show symptoms of COVID-19, or who have been exposed to someone with the illness, to remain isolated for at least fourteen days. Caregiving responsibilities have increased substantially as a result.

State and federal law in New York already provide paid and unpaid family leave. Recent legislation has expanded these programs to take the coronavirus into account, and to protect workers against discrimination and retaliation by their employers. In New York, parents of a minor child who has been ordered into quarantine can use the state’s Paid Family Leave program. The Family Care program may allow an individual to use Paid Family Leave to care for a relative who has been diagnosed with COVID-19.

Federal legislation passed in March creates a temporary system of paid sick leave and expanded family leave. Eligible employees may take two weeks of paid sick leave and twelve weeks of unpaid family leave to care for a family member who has COVID-19 or has been ordered into quarantine. Parents of children whose schools are closed may have up to twelve weeks of paid leave, both sick leave and family leave, and two more weeks of unpaid family leave.

At Phillips & Associates, our knowledgeable and skilled New York City employment discrimination attorneys advocate for the rights of workers in claims for discrimination, harassment, retaliation, and other unlawful workplace practices. To schedule a free and confidential consultation to discuss your rights and options, please contact us today online or at (212) 248-7431.

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