Recently, the New York City (NYC) Council passed a bill that would make height and weight discrimination in the workplace illegal. This bill would amend NYC’s Human Rights Law to include the additional protected categories of height and weight. The NYC Council expects the bill will receive Mayor Eric Adams’ signature. With this bill’s passage, NYC joins the State of Michigan, Washington D.C.; San Francisco, CA; and other major cities in enacting similar legislation. New laws in such influential cities and states often start a legislative trend nationwide. NYC has, lately, been at the forefront of anti-discrimination legislation. Just last month, NYC adopted final rules requiring independent audits of artificial intelligence (AI) tools in employment decision-making to prevent AI discrimination.
NYC Human Rights Law
On the federal level, Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 (Title VII) prohibits employment discrimination based on several protected classes. These include race, color, religion, sex (including gender identity, sexual orientation, and pregnancy), national origin, age (40 or older), disability, or genetic information. However, state and municipal laws often go beyond Title VII to include additional characteristics protected against discrimination.
The NYC Human Rights Law (Title 8 of the Administrative Code of the City of New York) protects against discrimination in employment, housing, public accommodations, lending, retaliation, harassment, and bias-based profiling by law enforcement. Currently, under the NYC Human Rights Law, additional protections against employment discrimination beyond those under federal Title VII include the following:
- marital or partnership status;
- arrest or conviction record;
- credit history;
- pre-employment marijuana testing;
- unemployment status;
- sexual and reproductive health decisions;
- salary history; and
- status as a victim of domestic violence, stalking, and sex offenses.
NYC Bill Prohibiting Height and Weight Discrimination
NYC’s new bill would amend the NYC Human Rights Law to include protection against height and weight discrimination. The new protected class would include the same language as other protected characteristics currently under the law. To that end, the bill would prohibit NYC employers from discriminating against employees and applicants on the basis of either their actual or perceived height and weight in all employment decisions. Exemptions under the bill apply in the following situations:
- Federal, state, or local laws require preferential treatment based on height or weight.
- An individual’s height or weight would prevent them from performing the essential functions of a job with or without reasonable accommodation.
- A specific height or weight is reasonably necessary for the normal operation of the business.
According to the bill, the New York City Commission on Human Rights would identify specific jobs or job categories that will qualify under the abovementioned exemptions.
The bill will become effective 180 days following Mayor Adams’ expected signature. As the push to protect against body type discrimination in employment expands, other major municipalities and states are likely to pass similar laws. In fact, Massachusetts, New Jersey, New York, and Vermont currently have height and weight discrimination laws pending. NYC employers should add protection against height and weight discrimination to their hiring policy and handbooks ahead of the law. Meanwhile, employers in other locations are encouraged to monitor legislative activity in their own cities and states. Similar laws may be on the horizon, and staying alert of any changes can protect against discrimination charges.
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