Know the Laws: New York
UPDATED April 4, 2016
Being a victim of domestic violence can affect many parts of your life, including your job. Under NY's employment discrimination law, you cannot be discriminated against by an employer due to your status as a domestic violence victim. You may file a complaint against an employer if you feel that s/he has fired you, refused to hire you, or treated you differently than other employees based on your status as a victim of domestic violence. Also, if you have to quit your job due to domestic violence, you may still be entitled to unemployment benefits. The laws that protect you are explained below.
No. Under the law, a person who is a victim of domestic violence cannot be discriminated against by an employer. This means that an employer may not fire you or refuse to hire you solely because you are a victim of domestic violence. Additionally, your employer may not treat you differently than other employees in terms of privileges, benefits, or pay, based on the fact that you are a domestic violence victim.*
Note: This law only applies to employers with four or more employees. However, all the employees do not need to work in the same location.**
* NY Exec Law § 296(1)(a)
** NY Exec Law § 292(5)
It may be difficult to know if the employer is discriminating against you. Here are a few possible situations that could indicate you have been discriminated against:
Example #1: In an interview for a new job, you reveal that you are in an abusive relationship. The employer says something like, “Although you are well-qualified for the position, I am not hiring anyone who can’t stand up for herself and lets someone beat her up.”
Example #2: You are currently employed and your employer regularly allows anyone to take off from work with one day’s notice for personal issues (i.e., if the babysitter cancels or if someone has to bring his/her car in to be fixed). You give one day’s notice and tell the boss you need time off to deal with a domestic violence issue (i.e., to plan a move to a safe place or to go to family court). Your boss refuses to grant you the time off for no good reason.
Example #3: You get an order of protection and show it to your boss. You mention to your boss that you suspect that the abuser may try to come to your workplace or call to look for you. Your boss says that s/he "doesn’t want to deal with that” and fires you.
If you are not sure whether or not you have been discriminated against, you can call or visit the NYS Division of Human Rights office nearest you to speak with a staff member about your situation. You can find information on filing a complaint based on discrimination here and the addresses and phone numbers for the various regional offices here.
No. If you are the victim of a domestic violence crime, there is a criminal law that forbids an employer from punishing you for missing work for any of the following reasons:
The law requires employers, with prior day notification, to allow time off for victims or witnesses of domestic violence to pursue these legal actions. However, the employer can ask for proof from the district attorney or the court staff that you were present in court that day and why you where there. Therefore, it is a good idea to ask for a letter or other proof while you are in court. Note: The employer does not have to pay you for the time missed.*
If the employer does fire you or punish you for missing work, you can contact the police since s/he may actually be committing a crime for which s/he can be arrested. Additionally, you may be able to file a claim with the NYS Division of Human Rights, because this behavior could also qualify as discrimination. See Can an employer fire me or refuse to hire me based on the fact that I am a victim of domestic violence? for more information.
Note: Even if you are not the victim of the crime but you have been subpoenaed (ordered) by the court to testify at a trial, this law applies to you as well.*
* NY Penal Law § 215.14
If you believe you have been the subject of employment discrimination based on your status as a victim of domestic violence, you can file a complaint with the NYS Division of Human Rights. The NYS Division of Human rights is a state agency created to enforce the human rights laws of New York by reviewing complaints of discrimination and prosecuting violators.*
You can file a complaint at the nearest regional office of the NYS Division of Human Rights. The headquarters is located in the Bronx, but there are many regional offices located throughout the state. Click here to find the office nearest you.
You can also download the form to file a complaint here. Once you download the form, here are the steps you can take:
Note: There is no filing fee to file this complaint.*
You may also want to consider suing the employer in civil court for this discrimination. We strongly suggest that you talk to an attorney who specializes in civil rights law or employment law to discuss whether or not you have a good case against your employer and to figure out what the possible outcome of a lawsuit may be. You may be able to find an attorney through the Bar Association’s Legal Referral Service which you can find on our NY Finding a Lawyer page.
* Adapted from the NYS Division of Human Rights website