Next week NYC outlaws discrimination against family caregivers
As of Wednesday, May 4, New Yorkers who are family caregivers will have new protections against discrimination in the workplace. New York City’s Human Rights law already prohibits discrimination on the basis of a person’s age, race, creed, color, national origin, gender, disability, marital status, partnership status, sexual orientation, or citizenship status. With this addition, an employee who is caring for a family member at home or elsewhere, or who is caring for anyone in his or her home, will have legal recourse if they are refused employment, terminated, demoted or otherwise treated negatively by an employer because they are a caregiver.
For example, under the newly expanded law an employer may not ask a potential employee whether he or she has caregiving responsibilities, nor refuse to promote a qualified employee because of his or her caregiving status. With this change, New York joins Washington, DC, Philadelphia, and San Francisco in outlawing discrimination against caregivers.
New York also has a statewide anti-discrimination law, but it is not nearly as broad as the City’s Human Rights law. Last October, caregivers were added to the list of people protected under the statewide law – but the only people it protects are parents caring for children under the age of 18.
If you are caring for a parent, grandparent, sibling, spouse, aunt, cousin or dear friend – for example, if you are one of the quarter million New Yorkers caring for someone with dementia – the state law offers you no protection. In an era where some 45 million adults in the United States are providing unpaid care to other adults, limiting anti-discrimination protections to parents of young children simply doesn’t address the reality of many people’s lives.
What’s needed is a huge cultural shift
The addition of caregivers to the City’s Human Rights Law is not a panacea, of course. Workplace discrimination is one of the hardest types of bias to prove, despite the fact that it is widely reported and the subject of numerous lawsuits.
At a City Council hearing on the subject a few years ago, lawyers from New York’s Legal Aid Society testified that it is common for people to be fired for taking time to care for a family member, and that workers are often forced out of their jobs by employers who refuse to make minor scheduling adjustments to accommodate caregiving responsibilities.
As things stand, under New York City’s newly expanded law, it is an open question as to what specific accommodations employers will be required to make for employees who are caregivers. Unlike San Francisco’s law, the New York City law does not spell out whether, for example, employers are required to offer flexible schedules to family caregivers, where possible. This and other important questions will be settled either by a written guidance from the City’s Commission on Human Rights or will be litigated and decided by a judge.
What the newly expanded law does do immediately is put employers on notice that they can be fined and have to pay damages if they discriminate against caregivers. As such, the change is an important milestone in the struggle for the recognition and accommodation of the vital work of caregiving – the demand for which will only continue to grow.
According to the New York State Family Caregiver Council, at least 80 percent of community- based long-term care is currently provided by family members or other informal caregivers. In addition to the obvious ethical and spiritual reasons to value their contributions, these women and men – and two thirds of them are women – reduce public spending on caregiving by at least $25 billion annually in New York State alone. The very least they are owed is the right to be free from discrimination because they are taking care of others.
Information on how to file a complaint with the New York City Human Rights Commission is available here. You can also call 311 to schedule an appointment to discuss a complaint.