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New York City
Equal Employment Opportunity

Overview

Please review the information below and the information on the New York State Human Rights Law here. When you have reviewed both pages, please return to the workplace harassment prevention course tab. Harassment and discrimination based on a protected characteristic are prohibited under both federal and state law.  The federal government and most state governments have agencies that help employers and employees understand these legal requirements and ensure compliance with the laws.

Protected Characteristics

Harassment or discrimination based on any protected characteristic set forth below is prohibited in New York City.

Federal

  • race 

  • color

  • national origin

  • sex (including pregnancy, sexual orientation and gender identity)

  • gender expression

  • disability

  • genetic information (including family medical history)

  • religion

  • age (40 and older)

New York City

  • race (including hair or hairstyles that are closely associated with racial, ethnic, or cultural identity)

  • color

  • national origin (including ancestry)

  • sex/gender (including pregnancy, childbirth, related conditions, and sexual or reproductive health decisions)

  • gender identity or expression (including transgender, actual or perceived gender non-conformity, or transitioning from one’s gender assigned at birth to one’s gender identity)

  • sexual orientation

  • age (18 and over)

  • creed or religion

  • disability

  • familial status

  • genetic information (including family medical history and predisposing genetic characteristics)

  • marital status

  • military service member, veteran status or other uniformed services

  • immigration or citizenship status

  • height

  • weight

Important Notes

In addition to the general protected characteristics listed above, some federal, state, and/or local laws also prohibit employment discrimination on the basis of other protected statuses in certain contexts, such as:

  • citizenship status or work authorization status,

  • emergency volunteer status,

  • family relationship with a co-worker, and/or

  • status based on information contained in criminal, background, or credit reports, or being subject to wage garnishments.

For example, discrimination based on alienage or citizenship, arrest or conviction record, credit history, salary history, or employment status is unlawful under New York City law.

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Likewise, some federal, state, and/or local laws prohibit discrimination, harassment, and/or retaliation for exercising certain legal rights such as:

  • participating in collective bargaining or union activities,

  • serving as a whistleblower pursuant to whistleblower laws,

  • filing a worker’s compensation or unemployment claim,

  • taking protected time off or protected leave,

  • engaging in certain off-duty activities.

Finally, under federal law and some state and/or local laws, employers may not limit or prohibit employees from using any languages in the workplace unless there is a business necessity for the restriction.

Note also that some federal, state, and/or local laws provide additional, separate standards and remedies for certain prohibited conduct, such as laws addressing equal pay without regard to sex or other protected category or specifically addressing sexual harassment prevention measures.

Applicable Laws

Federal

The primary federal laws that prohibit employment discrimination include Title VII of the 1964 Civil Rights Act, The Age Discrimination in Employment ActThe Americans With Disabilities ActThe Equal Pay ActThe Uniformed Services and Employment and Reemployment ActThe Immigration and Nationality Act, and The Genetic Information Nondiscrimination Act.

The U.S. Supreme Court held that Title VII protects individuals from employment discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation and gender identity or expression. Bostock v. Clayton County, Georgia, No. 17-1618 (U.S. June 15, 2020).

New York State

The primary state law that prohibits employment discrimination is The New York State Human Rights Law. See the New York resources page for more information on the state laws prohibiting discrimination and harassment.

New York City

The primary city law prohibiting employment discrimination, including harassment, is the New York City Human Rights LawSee also The New York City Human Rights Law page maintained by the NYC Commission on Human Rights (NYCCHR).

All employers in NYC with four or more employees must comply with the NYC Human Rights Law regardless of whether their employees are full-time or part-time, permanent or temporary, paid on the books or off the books, are paid or unpaid interns, independent contractors, or freelancers. Some provisions of the law (on gender-based harassment) protect employees regardless of the business’s size.

The New York City Human Rights Law prohibits discrimination in hiring, firing, work assignments, salary, benefits, promotions, performance evaluations, discipline, or any other decisions that affect employment terms and conditions.

The New York City Human Rights Law also prohibits your employer from making statements or asking questions during interviews or circulating job announcements that suggest a preference for or prejudice against individuals based on the law’s protected characteristics.

Sexual Harassment is Prohibited

Sexual harassment is a form of gender-based discrimination and can include unwanted sexual advances or requests for sexual favors. Unwelcome verbal, written, or physical conduct of a sexual nature constitutes unlawful sexual harassment when:

  • Granting sexual favors is used as the basis for employment decisions or as a requirement to keep your job

  • Such conduct unreasonably interferes with job performance, or creates an intimidating, hostile, or offensive work environment

Prohibited harassment can be verbal, physical, or pictorial and can include sexual comments, jokes, innuendo, pressure for dates, unwanted touching, sexual gestures, or sexual graffiti. The harasser can be a man or a woman. The complainant does not have to be the person at whom the offensive conduct is directed, but anyone affected by the conduct.

Gender-based harassment can be a single or isolated incident of disparate treatment or repeated acts or behavior. Disparate treatment can manifest in harassment when the incident or behavior creates an environment or reflects or fosters a culture or atmosphere of sex stereotyping, degradation, humiliation, bias, or objectification. Gender-based harassment can include unwanted sexual advances or requests but does not have to be sexual in nature. For example, refusal to use a transgender employee’s name, pronouns, or title may constitute unlawful gender-based harassment. 

Source: NYC Human Rights: The Law; NYC Human Rights: Gender Identity/Gender Expression: Legal Enforcement GuidanceSee also New York City Stop Sexual Harassment Act Fact Sheet for Employers and The New York City Administrative Code, as amended by the Stop Sexual Harassment in NYC Act.

Filing a Claim in New York City

See New York City Commission on Human Rights (NYCCHR) Steps in the Complaint Process

If you believe you have been the victim of discrimination in the City of New York, you may file a complaint with the Law Enforcement Bureau of the NYC Commission on Human Rights. The NYC Human Rights Law requires that the complaint be filed within one year of the last alleged act of discrimination (or three years for gender-based harassment). The alleged act of discrimination must have taken place within, or have sufficient connection to, the five boroughs of New York City for a complaint to be filed with the NYC Commission on Human Rights.

When you visit the Commission, you will meet with a staff attorney to discuss discrimination allegations. Commission services are free of charge. To expedite the interview process, please bring all relevant information covered in the complaint, such as names, addresses, phone numbers of the people or organizations you are charging, and the exact dates of the events. To gain access to the building, please bring photo identification.

Contact Info

For more information on how to report discrimination, how to file a complaint, or about the complaint process:

call 311 or (718)-722-3131 visit NYCCHR Complaint Process visit the office, located at 22 Reade Street in lower Manhattan.

Important:  You cannot file a complaint with the NYC Commission on Human Rights if you have already filed a discrimination complaint based upon the same facts with any other court or agency. This includes the NYS Division of Human Rights, the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development, and any state and federal court. It does not, however, include unemployment insurance or workers’ compensation claims. If your complaint is about bias-based profiling by law enforcement, you can also pursue a complaint with the Civilian Complaint Review Board and a lawsuit in state or federal court.

Source:  New York City Commission on Human Rights (NYCCHR)

See also the New York State Equal Employment Opportunity page for details on how to contact state and federal agencies.

Retaliation Prohibited

It is illegal for your employer to retaliate against you or negatively affect your working conditions because you have:

  • opposed what you reasonably believed was unlawful harassment/discriminatory practice;

  • made a charge or filed a harassment/discrimination complaint with the NYC Commission on Human Rights, your employer, or any other agency; or

  • testified, assisted, or participated in an investigation, proceeding, or hearing relating to something prohibited by the NYC Human Rights Law.

The NYC Human Rights Law protects you against retaliation as long as you have a reasonable, good faith belief that the employer’s conduct is illegal, even if it turns out that you were mistaken.

Interns, independent contractors, and freelancers are also protected from retaliation, just as employees are.

SourceNYCCHR: In the Workplace.

The information contained on this page is for informational purposes only.
It does not, and is not intended to, constitute legal advice.