The New York State Division of Human Rights recently issued guidance related to COVID-19 under the New York State Human Rights Law (“NYSHRL”). The guidance makes clear that individuals may file a complaint with the Division regarding discrimination because of a “perceived connection between [the person’s] race, national origin, or disability and the novel Coronavirus.” It also makes clear that the NYSHRL prohibits discrimination against individuals who are assumed to have been exposed to COVID-19 based on their protected characteristics, including race, national origin, and disability. The guidance provides that these protections cover employment, housing, education, and places of public accommodation.

The guidance provides the following examples of prohibited conduct:

  • Public places such as hotels, restaurants, transportation services, and retail stores cannot deny you entry or access to goods or services based on a perception that your national origin, race, or disability indicates possible exposure to the coronavirus.
  • Your employer cannot fire you, send you home, or tell you not to come to work because they think you may have been exposed to the coronavirus based solely on your race, national origin, or disability.
    It is an unlawful discriminatory practice to terminate an employee or prevent them from working based on speculation that the employee’s race, national origin, or disability indicates possible exposure to the coronavirus.
  • If your employer terminates you or sends you home based on what is later found to be a discriminatory policy, your employer could be responsible for your missed wages.
  • If you are wearing a face mask as a precaution, you are still protected against discrimination.
    The HRL prohibits discrimination based on a perceived connection between race, national origin, or disability and possible exposure to coronavirus. Wearing a face mask does not change this.
  • If you have been harassed or threatened because someone thinks you have the coronavirus, call 911 and contact law enforcement to report the incident immediately.
    Threats and harassment based on race national origin may be considered hate crimes. You may bring this to the attention of the New York State Hate Crimes Task Force by calling 1-888-392-3644

Finally, the guidance instructs individuals how to report harassment and/or discrimination.


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