New York City made history at the beginning of 2016, when a new law took effect that expands the protections of the New York City Human Rights Law (NYCHRL) to people with full-time care responsibilities for family members and people residing in their homes. The new law prohibits discrimination against an employee or job applicant based solely on their status as a “caregiver,” which is sometimes also known as “family responsibilities discrimination.” The law does not, however, offer a specific definition of the responsibilities that make a person a protected “caregiver.” It may also leave open to interpretation the extent to which an employer has an affirmative obligation to provide reasonable accommodations to an employee who is also a caregiver. This could lead to conflict, including litigation, over how to enforce the law.
The NYCHRL offers some of the broadest protection of any anti-discrimination statute in the country. Federal law protects employees from discrimination on the basis of sex, race, religion, color, national origin, and in some cases, age and disability. New York City goes much further, adding protected categories like sexual orientation, gender identity and expression, criminal history, current employment status, and now caregiver status.
A “caregiver,” for the purposes of the NYCHRL, is a person who “provides direct and ongoing care for a minor child or a care recipient.” N.Y. Admin. Code § 8-102(30)(a). The NYCHRL defines a “care recipient” as someone who is either a “covered relative” or who lives with the caregiver, and who “relies on the caregiver for medical care or to meet the needs of daily living.” Id. at § 8-102(30)(b). Finally, it defines a “covered relative” as someone with a family relationship to the caregiver, such as a “child, spouse, domestic partner, parent, sibling, [or] grandchild or grandparent.” Id. at 8-102(30)(c). What might prove to be ambiguous in future disputes are the meanings of “relies on…for medical care” and “to meet the needs of daily living” in § 8-102(30)(b).
The new law might also leave open questions regarding reasonable accommodations. The NYCHRL defines this term as accommodations that an employer can make without “caus[ing] undue hardship in the conduct of the [employer]’s business.” Id. at 8-102(18). The employer has the burden of proving that a requested accommodation would cause “undue hardship,” based on factors like “the nature and cost of the accommodation,” the size and resources of the employer, and the impact of the accommodation on normal operations. Id.
Employers must make reasonable accommodations for employees with disabilities, id. at § 8-107(15); employees who are pregnant, have recently given birth, or are dealing with a medical condition related to either situation, id. at § 8-107(22); and employees who are victims of domestic violence, id. at § 8-107.1(3). An employee is also entitled to reasonable accommodations for religious observances under slightly different standards. Id. at § 8-107(3).
The NYCHRL section specifically dealing with employment discrimination, id. at 8-107(1), does not mention reasonable accommodations, but the section defining the term mentions “claims filed under subdivision one…of section 8-107.” Id. at 8-102(18). Courts and regulatory agencies have had years to develop standards and guidelines regarding reasonable accommodations for disabilities, pregnancy, and other protected categories. There is still work to be done with regard to reasonable accommodations for caregivers in New York City.
The disability discrimination lawyers at Phillips & Associates advocate on behalf of job applicants and employees in New York City, helping them assert their rights under local, state, and federal employment statutes. Contact us online or at (866) 229-9441 today to schedule a free and confidential consultation with a member of our team.