One of the more common misconceptions about anti-discrimination and anti-harassment laws is that these laws prevent ALL types of discrimination and harassment in the workplace. This is simply not true. Discrimination or harassment is only illegal if it is for one of a number of protected reasons. New York is an at-will employment state. That means that, unless you have an employment contract, an employer can terminate your employment for any or no reason, with little or no notice. If your boss doesn’t like you and wants to fire you, that’s not illegal. If your boss is giving you a hard time because he or she is jealous of you, that’s not illegal. It might not be fair, but the law isn’t always fair.
The primary exceptions to New York’s at-will employment doctrine are the federal, state and local laws which prohibit certain types of discrimination and harassment in the workplace. There are a number of such laws that apply in New York City and the primary ones are summarized below:
- Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964: Federal law that prohibits discrimination on the basis of race, color, religion, sex/gender or national origin. Enforced by the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission.
- Americans with Disabilities Act: Federal law that prohibits discrimination on the basis of disability or perceived disability. Also requires an employer to try to accomodate an individual with a disability. Enforced by the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission.
- Age Discrimination in Employment Act: Federal law that prohibits discrimination against individuals over age 40. Enforced by the EEOC.
- New York State Human Rights Law: State law that prohibits discrimination on the basis of race, color, creed, national origin, sex/gender, age, disability, sexual orientation, marital status, domestic violence victim status, arrest or conviction record, an individual’s predisposing genetic characteristics. Enforced by the New York State Division of Human Rights.
- New York City Human Rights Law: City law that prohibits discrimination on the basis of age, race, creed, color, national origin, gender, disability, marital status, partnership status, sexual orientation or alienage/citizenship status. Enforced by the New York City Commission on Human Rights.
As you can see, both the New York State and New York City Human Rights Laws offer much broader protection that federal laws. For example, while state and city law prohibit discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation, federal law does not. By the same token, the New York City Human Rights law prohibits discrimination on the basis of your citizenship status (that is, whether you are a citizen of the United States or some other country), while the New York State Human Rights Law does not prohibit this discrimination.
The above list is not meant to be a thorough list as there are a number of other federal, state and local laws which may apply to your employment situation – for example, New York Labor Law § 201-d prohibits discrimination against employees for engaging in “lawful, leisure-time” activities. As a result, if you have a question about whether you are being subjected to unlawful harassment or discrimination in the workplace, you should speak with an attorney who can advise you of your legal rights. If you would like to be connected with an attorney that may be able to help you, contact us here.