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The Ultimate Guide To New York City Human Rights Law

Harassment & Discrimination

The Ultimate Guide To New York City Human Rights Law

New York City Human Rights Law (Title 8 of the Administrative Code of the City of New York) promotes fairness and equality between all members of society and prohibits discrimination in employment, housing, and public accommodations. New York City employers need to be aware of the recent amendments to the New York City Human Rights Law to keep their workforce and customers safe and to keep their business compliant. This article will help you understand the essence of the New York City Human Rights Law and the requirements employees must meet. It will also provide the resources to help keep your company legally and morally on track.

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What is New York City Human Rights Law?

New York City Human Rights Law prohibits discrimination in the State on the basis of age, race, color, creed, national origin, sexual orientation, citizenship status gender, sex, military status, marital status and partnership, arrest or conviction record, or disability, in employment, housing, education, credit, and access to public accommodations. The New York City Human Rights Law also prohibits discrimination in lending practices, retaliation, and bias-based profiling by law enforcement.

New York City is a large cosmopolitan with a diverse population. Different cultures and social customs co-existing in the same environment may cause disagreements, prejudice, or become antagonistic. Sadly, the existence of the groups prejudiced against one another, intolerance, bigotry, sexual harassment, and bias-related violence is still common. It is soothing to know that there is judicial protection available for New Yorkers regardless of their age, citizenship status gender identity, or disability. New York's sexual harassment act is also one tool that helps the cause.

For employers complying with the New York City Human Rights Law is critical because they have an additional responsibility for the safety of their workforce and customers.

What is Discrimination?

The word discrimination originates from the Latin discriminate -- 'distinguished between". It can be described as a prejudiced outlook, action, or treatment based on unjustified distinctions between human beings. Discriminatory behavior such as bullying, harassment, and victimization may be based on actual or perceived differences and can occur in nearly any setting: at work, at home, or in public places, in person, over the phone, text, or internet.

Protected Classes Under NYC Human Rights Law

As set forth by the Commission on Human Rights, the New York City Human Rights Law prohibits discrimination grounded on the following characteristics:

  • Age
  • National origin
  • Immigration or citizenship status
  • Race
  • Color
  • Disability
  • Sexual orientation
  • Gender including gender identity
  • Marital status and partnership status
  • Creed/religion
  • Status as a Veteran
  • Uniform Service
In employment, additional protections include:
  • Arrest or conviction record (exceptions due to state, federal, or local law may apply)
  • Caregiver status
  • Credit history (except when required by federal law for licensing, registration or permitting)
  • Pre-employment marijuana testing
  • Unemployment status (federal law exceptions may apply)
  • Sexual and reproductive health decisions including pregnancy
  • Salary history Status as a victim of domestic violence, stalking, and sex offenses

In housing, additional protections include:

  • The presence of children

  • Lawful source of income

  • Lawful occupation

  • Status as a victim of domestic violence, stalking, and sex offenses

If you need help with addressing discriminatory behaviors in the workplace, try EasyLlamas training for diversity and inclusion in the workplace. We'll educate and show you everything you need to know about how to promote a healthy, diverse, and inclusive workforce.

Examples of Discriminatory Behavior


Workplace bullying occurs when a person or a group of people make an individual feel unwanted, uncomfortable, intimidated, humiliated, insulted, or offended. An example would be when a worker is often unfairly criticized by a manager, whose chastening comments include one or more characteristics listed above (i.e. age, national origin, marital status, partnership status, etc.).

Imagine a supervisor saying to a subordinate "Do you have a headache, or your menses, or some other hormonal issue which messes up your thinking?" You are likely to guess that the victim is a woman. Such comments would constitute gender discrimination.

Bullying can occur in person or via social media, phone, email, or text, at the place of employment or outside the workplace. It is important for the victims to keep a record of each incident and report the violation of New York Human Rights Law by filing a complaint with the Commission on Human Rights Law Enforcement Bureau.


Harassment constitutes repeated actions that may scare, distress, or annoy a person. It also includes unwelcome physical contact or unlawful sexual advances. Harassment may be perpetrated by stalking, assaults, battery, credible threats of violence, or creating a hostile work environment and interfering with an employee's ability to do their job.

As an example of workplace harassment in New York City, imagine a clerk liking a female colleague. She is married and has no interest in getting romantic with him. However, the clerk is persistently displaying unwelcome signs of affection, such as making risqué compliments or attempting undesired physical contact. This would be considered harassment in New York City.

Harassment may have non-sexual nature and be related to nationality, citizenship status, religion etc. It can also occur in person or via phone, or email, or social media. To prevent the issue from escalating and to avoid a possible court hearing, victims shall consider reporting harassment to the HR manager. Consulting with an attorney and filing a complaint with the Law Enforcement Bureau of the Commission on Human Rights may also be necessary.


Workplace victimization is unlawful to conduct expressed through acts of aggression in an organization by one worker or a group against another employee for the purpose of causing harm to the victim. Victimization is perpetrated through deviant behavior including malicious gossip, racial bias, or undermining a person's authority.

An example of such an act of aggression can be a supervisor actively displaying their dislike towards an employee, withholding their well-deserved promotion, and in other ways impeding the career of the victim based on protected characteristics (i.e. partnership status, citizenship status gender, or sexual orientation). The New York Human Rights Law prohibits victimization.

Types of Discrimination

Discrimination can be direct or indirect. According to the New York Human Rights Law, when someone is treated unfairly because of a personal characteristic such as age, marital status, and partnership, religion, or disability, it is direct discrimination. An example of direct discrimination would be a manager excluding an employee from training because they believe that he is too old.

In New York, indirect discrimination occurs, when an employer sets the rules or arrangements which equally apply to all employees or job applicants, but in practice put at disadvantage an individual or a particular group of people. Below are some examples of indirect discrimination:

  • All workers are required to work on Sundays. This could indirectly discriminate persons practicing certain religions (indirect religious discrimination)
  • Employees are required to work full time but female workers, who are the primary caregiver to their children, may need to have flexible work hours or work part-time (indirect gender discrimination)
  • Safety brochures and posters containing information about workplace health hazards are printed only in English. Employees whose first language is not English may be inadvertently put at risk. (indirect national origin discrimination)

New York City Human Rights Law prohibits both direct and indirect discrimination.

According to the New York City Human Rights Law, employers can justify indirect discrimination by proving that the unfavorable treatment was "a proportionate means of achieving a legitimate aim." For example, if a company can prove that the policy at question was necessary for health and safety reasons.

Examples of Discriminatory Practices

According to Title 8 of the New York City Administrative Code, unlawful discriminatory practices include discrimination of any person related to protected categories: age, race, color, religion/creed, national origin, gender, pregnancy unfairness, gender identity and gender expression, disability, sexual orientation, marital or partnership status, immigration or citizenship status, arrest or conviction record, credit history, sexual and reproductive health decisions, status as a victim of domestic violence, sexual violence, or stalking, and status as a caregiver.

Examples may include:

  • Withholding employment opportunity because of the protected personal characteristics
  • Discrimination in compensation, terms, conditions, or privileges of employment
  • Refusal to hire or unfairly discharging such person from employment
  • Excluding or expelling such person from membership in a professional organization or misrepresent that membership is not available
  • Declaring, publishing, or circulating any statement or advertisement which would limit directly or indirectly such person.
  • Selecting persons for an apprentice training program registered with the state of New York on any basis other than their qualifications, as determined by objective criteria
  • Denying or withholding from such person admission or participation in an occupational training or retraining program, or misrepresenting that it is not available
  • Imposing upon a person as a prerequisite of obtaining or retaining a job any terms or conditions which would require them to violate or forego a practice of their religion
  • Inquiring about the salary history of an applicant for employment, or relying on the applicant's salary history in determining the compensation and benefits during the hiring process

You can refer to The New York City Administrative Code, Title 8 Civil Rights to see the full list of unlawful discriminatory practices.

Employer Obligations under the New York City Human Rights Law

Employers are obliged to prevent and combat discrimination based on the protected categories in hiring, firing, and in the terms, conditions, or privileges of employment. Also, the law protects individuals affiliated with other persons related to a protected category. Employers must ensure that the workplace is free from bias-based harassment. Employers also must provide reasonable accommodations to the workers in protected categories as explained below.

The NYC Rights Law prohibits employment discrimination in:

  • Hiring, including in job postings and interviews
  • Discipline and firing
  • Salary and benefits
  • Promotions and demotions
  • Performance evaluations
  • Any decisions that affect the terms and conditions of employment

Employment agencies are obliged to treat all applicants fairly and are prohibited from using any of the protected categories in employment decision-making. Labor organizations must treat their members equally and are prohibited from excluding members related to any of the protected categories.

Employers, employment agencies, and labor organizations must ensure that none of their statements or advertisements directly or indirectly suggest any limitation or discrimination based on protected categories. For example, by the law, an employer cannot seek applicants who have a "clean record" or don't have unemployment status. Such terms would suggest limitations based on credit or unemployment status (unless otherwise permitted by city, state, or federal law).

Reasonable Accommodations in Employment

In New York City, every employer must provide reasonable accommodations to workers with special needs related to protected categories, unless providing reasonable accommodations would create an undue hardship for the employer. This may include changes made to the work schedule or duties of an employee to address their specific needs and allow them to do their job. An employer must provide reasonable accommodations for the following protected classes:

  • Disability: An employer must make reasonable accommodations to meet the needs of individuals with a physical, medical, mental, or psychological impairment, or a history of such impairment.
  • Religious observance: An employer must make reasonable adjustments for the religious needs of workers and job applicants, including Holy Days observance.
  • Pregnancy, childbirth or related medical condition: An employer must make reasonable accommodations to individuals related to their pregnancy, childbirth, recovery from labor, or related medical condition.
  • Lactation: An employer is required to provide employees with lactation accommodations, including a lactation room where a mother can pump breast milk, and a reasonable time to do so.
  • Status as a victim of domestic violence, sexual violence, or stalking: An employer must reasonably accommodate the needs of individuals who are or have been subject to certain acts or threats of violence.

Housing and Public Accommodations

New York City Human Rights Law also protects individuals in housing and public accommodation and prohibits discrimination in:

  • Leasing and sales, including in advertisements and interviews
  • Loans and mortgages, including their terms
  • Rental and sale, including the terms, conditions, or privileges thereof
  • Steering people toward or away from certain neighborhoods
  • Any decisions that affect the housing terms and conditions

Reasonable Accommodations in Housing

The law protects persons with disabilities in housing and public accommodations by requiring them to provide reasonable accommodations to such persons. In housing, reasonable accommodation means a change made to the environment, terms, or privileges of housing to accommodate an actual or potential resident's disability. A housing provider must furnish and pay for reasonable accommodations unless doing so would create an undue hardship.

Public Accommodations Protections under the Human Rights Law

The New York City Human Rights Law prohibits discrimination in public accommodations including restaurants, stores, hospitals, museums, and theaters, etc.

Reasonable Accommodations in Public Places

By law, a provider of public accommodations must implement and pay for reasonable accommodations to address the needs of patrons or customers with disabilities, unless doing so would create an undue hardship.

Employer Liability for Violation of the New York City Human Rights Law

The New York City Human Rights Law is applicable to every employer who has employed four or more people within the past year. The term "employees" includes full-time or part-time workers, permanent or temporary, interns or paid employees, regardless of how they are paid. Labor organizations and employment agencies are covered by the Law irrespective of their size.

The NYC Human Rights Law is enforced by the Commission's Law Enforcement Bureau. In case of violation of the NYC Human Rights Law, a complaint must be filed with the Commission's Law Enforcement Bureau within one year of the last suspected act of discrimination. Gender-based harassment complaints can be filed with the Commission on Human Rights within three years of the last alleged incident of discrimination. A complaint can be filed with the New York City Commission on Human Rights only if the alleged act of discrimination occurred within NYC or has sufficient connection to the City of New York.

If an employer loses a discrimination case filed against them, the Commission on Human Rights can order remedies such as to cease and desist from engaging in unlawful conduct, reinstate an employee, provide an accommodation, pay for lost wages; pay for emotional distress damages, pay the complainant's reasonable attorney fees. Attorney fees are determined based on matter-specific factors in every case. Violations may also result in civil penalties of up to $125,000, and up to $250,000 for deliberate malicious conduct. The Commissioner may require respondents to provide training for managers and employees.

How to Avoid Discrimination

New York City Human Rights Law is complex anti-discrimination legislation that emphasizes the importance of equal conditions and privileges for all and prohibits discrimination. The best strategy to avoid the violation of the New York City Human Rights Law is prevention by properly establishing the company culture and morals and by educating your workforce and management. If you are an employer or a manager and your company needs a smart and cost-effective way to train your team, try EasyLlama's certification training

Law exists on paper. Real people and their feelings exist in real life. Law enforcement begins with personal morals, respectful communication, and relinquishing prejudices. If each individual and every employer practices fair treatment, we can create a more harmonious society together.

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