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Law Office of Cohen & Jaffe, LLP

A Brief Guide to New York’s Protected Classes

You may be heading to your next job interview armed with a resume, a portfolio, and a selection of your most brag-worthy achievements, but have you memorized your legal rights? Even if you’re a strong candidate on paper, it’s worth noting how an employer might treat you differently based on your race, your religion, and even your age. Employment discrimination is not always overt, but it could affect your chances at employment and your treatment within the workplace. A healthy knowledge of protected classes within the state of New York can help you identify employment discrimination and find recourse against it.

Federally protected classes are categories that protect certain individuals from prejudice within a context of hiring or employment. The law prevents your employer from making decisions based on certain factors that you can’t change, that carry unwarranted stigma, or that have no bearing on your ability to be a productive member of the workforce. This includes statements and questions about these protected classes during job interviews. For example, if your interviewer inquires about your gender, your religion, or your national origin, then you have a cause for concern about illegal employment discrimination.

While employers must avoid prejudicial hiring practices, the law surrounding protected classes extends far beyond hiring and firing. Employers may not discriminate when they make decisions about an employee’s salary, benefits, promotions, performance evaluations, and disciplinary measures. The goal is to accommodate marginalized groups and offer a level playing field for employed individuals.

New York takes the concept of protected classes much further than federal laws. It expands federal regulations to prohibit discrimination based on marital status, sexual orientation, military service, and several others. The law even accounts for types of discrimination that one might not typically consider a roadblock to employment, such as political activities, lawful recreational activities, and status as a victim of domestic violence.

Federal law states that anti-discrimination laws apply only to companies with 15 or more employees. In the state of New York, by contrast, companies with four employees or more must comply with anti-discrimination laws. Employment agencies and labor organizations must also adhere to the laws.

Employers in New York are also legally required to accommodate the religious practices of employees, pay men and women equally, and protect employees from sexual harassment. An employer may not retaliate against an employee who reports or opposes an illegal discriminatory practice, or one who participates in an investigation, proceeding, or hearing.

If you are still uncertain about your legal rights within an employment or hiring context, or if you have concerns about a particular employer or incident, you should seek the help of an experienced attorney. The Law Office of Cohen & Jaffe, LLP will protect your right to work without fear of discrimination or prejudicial treatment.

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