COVID-19 and Human Rights

 

Purple image with a silhouette of two heads talking, each with an "X" in a speech bubble above them.  Text on the right says "Fear about COVID-19 is not an excuse for harassment or discrimination."  NYC Commission on Human Rights logo appears in bottom right corner.

Last Updated: May 11, 2020

Harassment and discrimination on the basis of race, national origin, age, and disability (including having COVID-19 or another serious illness) is illegal under the New York City Human Rights Law. In recent months, we have seen a sharp increase in instances of hostility and harassment directed at Chinese and other Asian communities related to COVID-19 anxiety. The Commission on Human Rights, the Mayor's Office for the Prevention of Hate Crimes, and the Mayor's Office of Immigrant Affairs are coordinating closely to educate the public about their rights and protections in light of COVID-19 related stigma and hate crimes. If you have faced harassment or discrimination in housing, at work, or in any public place, contact the Commission by filling out our online form or by calling 311 and asking for "human rights." If you are a victim of or witness a hate crime, call 911.

Information about coronavirus (COVID-19) is changing at a rapid pace. For the latest information, text “COVID” to 692-692 or visit the NYC Department of Health and Mental Hygiene (DOHMH) website at NYC.gov/coronavirus where you will find information about preventing the spread of this disease, symptoms, and guidance on citywide mandates such as school and business closures.

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Fact Sheet on Hate and Bias Incidents Related to COVID-19

Hate or discrimination on the basis of race, national origin, or other characteristics is not tolerated in NYC. The New York City Commission on Human Rights, the Office for the Prevention of Hate Crimes, and the New York City Police Department are monitoring and responding to hate and bias incidents related to COVID-19. Download this resource for additional resources to address bias, harassment, discrimination and to access mental health support.

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Case Deadlines

For claims set to expire between March 20, 2020 and June 6, 2020, the deadline to file a complaint under the New York City Human Rights Law is extended to June 7, 2020. For more information, see Governor Cuomo's initial Executive Order and most recent modified Executive Order. Deadlines in ongoing cases at the Commission have also been extended during this time period. If you have questions about this, fill out our online form or call 311 and ask for "human rights."

Appeals in Cases Dismissed for Administrative Cause or No Probable Cause

Due to the disruption that COVID-19 has caused, the Commission will postpone issuing decisions on appeals in cases where the complaint was dismissed by the Law Enforcement Bureau for (1) administrative cause, under section 8-113(a), or (2) no probable cause under section 8-113(d) of the New York City Human Rights Law. If you have questions about this, contact policy@cchr.nyc.gov, and review our fact sheet about appeals of dismissals for administrative cause and fact sheet about appeals of dismissals for no probable cause.

Housing Protections

Your landlord cannot harass or discriminate against you, kick you out, or ask you to leave your apartment because of fears or stigma around COVID-19, and your landlord may not harass you or discriminate against you on the basis of actual or perceived race, national origin, disability, or other protected classes.

Based on current available information, the Commission considers actual or perceived infection with COVID-19 to be protected as a disability under the New York City Human Rights Law (NYCHRL).

General prohibitions against discrimination: Even in the midst of a pandemic, protections against discrimination under the NYCHRL remain in effect. If a housing provider learns or believes that a resident has or had COVID-19, they cannot retaliate or discriminate against the resident by, for example, seeking to remove the resident, or charging the resident additional fees related to cleaning or disinfecting the building. Housing providers may take reasonable steps to protect the health and safety of their staff and residents, and should follow local, state, and federal public health orders and recommendations.

Reasonable accommodations: Housing providers have an ongoing duty to provide residents with reasonable accommodations for disabilities, including those related to COVID-19. Housing providers must accommodate people with disabilities, unless doing so poses an undue hardship. This obligation extends to all disabilities, including both those directly related to COVID-19 and underlying conditions for which exposure to COVID-19 may pose a particular risk of complication. Policies implemented to ensure the safety and health of residents, including, for example, limiting visitors or deliveries, must allow for reasonable accommodations for people with disabilities who may require a visitor to assist with basic needs or to carry deliveries to a person’s door, rather than leaving them in a lobby. Housing providers must engage in a cooperative dialogue with their residents to determine what accommodation would meet the residents’ need and not pose an undue hardship.

If a housing provider learns about a resident’s infection with COVID-19, it should maintain that information in a confidential manner.

If you are facing harassment and discrimination by your landlord, please contact the NYC Commission on Human Rights. Learn more about COVID-19 and your housing rights.

Employment Protections

On March 20, 2020, Governor Cuomo announced statewide guidance directing non-essential employees to remain at home. Learn more at https://coronavirus.health.ny.gov/home.

Your employer cannot harass or discriminate against you because of fears or stigma around COVID-19, including on the basis of actual or perceived race, national origin, age, disability, or other protected class. Based on current available information, the Commission considers actual or perceived infection with COVID-19 to be protected as a disability under the New York City Human Rights Law (NYCHRL).

In response to the current public health crisis posed by COVID-19, the Commission has adopted the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission's guidance, "Pandemic Preparedness in the Workplace and the Americans with Disabilities Act," originally published on October 9, 2009, and reissued on March 19, 2020. In general, compliance with the EEOC guidance will satisfy employers' obligations with respect to disability protections under the NYCHRL, as they relate to COVID-19.

Supplemental information and key things to note regarding the Commission's application of the EEOC guidance:

Scope of adoption: The Commission's adoption of EEOC guidance to address the current public health crisis does not constitute a wholesale adoption of federal disability law, nor does it limit the NYCHRL beyond the scope of what is covered within the EEOC guidance.

General prohibitions against discrimination: Even in the midst of a pandemic, protections against discrimination under the NYCHRL remain in effect. Employers must be sure that their policies and practices, including those implemented in response to COVID-19, do not discriminate against or treat workers less well based on their protected status, including race, national origin, citizenship, immigration status, and disability, among others. Employers may take reasonable steps to protect the health and safety of their staff and clients, and should follow local, state, and federal public health orders and recommendations.

Reasonable accommodations: Employers have an ongoing duty to provide employees with accommodations for disabilities, including those related to COVID-19, unless doing so poses an undue hardship. This obligation extends to all disabilities, including both those directly related to COVID-19 and underlying conditions for which exposure to COVID-19 may pose a particular risk of complication. Employers also have an ongoing duty to provide reasonable accommodations for workers who are pregnant. Examples of reasonable accommodations include allowing an employee to telework, modifying an employee’s work duties, changing their schedule, and/or providing certain personal protective equipment.

Important distinction from the ADA: Under the NYCHRL, employers are required to engage in a cooperative dialogue with an employee when they know or have reason to know that the employee may require a reasonable accommodation for a disability. This means that, in contrast with guidance from the EEOC in question G.4 of What You Should Know About the ADA, the Rehabilitation Act and the Coronavirus (updated May 5, 2020), if an employer knows that an employee has a medical condition that might place them at “higher risk for severe illness” if they get COVID-19, the employer is required to engage the employee in a cooperative dialogue about a potential accommodation, even if the employee has not requested a reasonable accommodation. For more information about the cooperative dialogue process under the NYCHRL and how to initiate it where an employer knows or has reason to know of an employee’s disability, see the Commission’s Legal Enforcement Guidance on Discrimination on the Basis of Disability.

Medical notes: During the current pandemic, it may be impracticable for employees to obtain documentation from a healthcare provider confirming the need for a disability- or pregnancy-related accommodation. To the extent employers require such documentation in order to grant reasonable accommodations, the Commission recommends waiving those requirements until such time as the employee can reasonably obtain documentation. This is consistent with employers’ obligation to engage in good faith in the cooperative dialogue process. At the same time, employees have a similar obligation to engage in good faith in the cooperative dialogue process, including by undertaking reasonable efforts to provide their employer with necessary documentation in support of a request for reasonable accommodation. Employers are encouraged to adopt a flexible approach to handling requests for reasonable accommodation and confirming the nature of an employee’s need for such accommodation.

Returning to work: Consistent with employers’ need to take reasonable steps to protect the health and safety of their businesses, employers may require employees to provide evidence of their ability to safely return to the workplace after recovering from COVID-19, and to confirm that they are not contagious.

Testing: As the EEOC has noted, based on guidance from the CDC and public health authorities, the COVID-19 pandemic qualifies as a direct threat and employers may undertake medical examinations, such as temperature testing, to confirm whether a particular employee may pose a direct threat due to infection. Employers are cautioned, however, to ensure that such testing is undertaken consistent with current medical knowledge and the best available objective evidence, including by selecting tests with reasonably confirmed rates of accuracy and by strictly following test manufacturers’ guidelines and instructions for use. Employers should also note that many symptoms of COVID-19 that have been identified by public health authorities do not present in all cases and, conversely, that the same symptoms may present in people who are not infected with COVID-19. Please consult the CDC’s website for updates on COVID-19 testing and symptoms.

Commission resources: Please consult the Commission’s Legal Enforcement Guidance on Discrimination on the Basis of Disability and Legal Enforcement Guidance on Discrimination on the Basis of Pregnancy: Local Law No. 78 (2013); N.Y.C. Admin. Code § 8-107(22) for additional information about employees’ rights to reasonable accommodations and to be free from discrimination.   

The Commission may update this guidance as the situation related to COVID-19 develops. You are encouraged to check back to this site.

Public Accommodations Protections

It is illegal for business owners or staff at places of public accommodations (e.g., grocery stores, medical facilities, restaurants, among others) to kick you out, refuse to serve you, or otherwise treat you less well than other customers because of fears or stigma around COVID-19, including harassment or discrimination on the basis of actual or perceived race, national origin, disability, or other protected classes. Based on current available information, the Commission considers actual or perceived infection with COVID-19 to be protected as a disability under the New York City Human Rights Law (NYCHRL). Business owners may enforce requirements that customers wear facial coverings and maintain social distance while on their premises, subject to the requirements of the NYCHRL that reasonable accommodations be made for members of protected groups, as described below.

General prohibitions against discrimination: Even in the midst of a pandemic, protections against discrimination under the NYCHRL remain in effect. Providers of public accommodations must be sure that their policies and practices, including those implemented in response to COVID-19, do not discriminate against or treat patrons less well based on their protected status, including race, national origin, citizenship, immigration status, and disability, among others. Providers of public accommodation may take reasonable steps to protect the health and safety of their staff and customers, and should follow local, state, and federal public health orders and recommendations.

Special guidance for essential retail services: Essential retail services, such as grocery stores and restaurants, face special challenges in the midst of the COVID-19 crisis. This guidance is intended to assist those businesses in complying with the NYCHRL, while also taking steps to protect their customers and employees, for example through policy changes recommended in the City's April 20, 2020 Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs) For Essential Retail Businesses and Their Customers During the COVID-19 Public Health Emergency. Essential retail services should bear in mind the following considerations about the NYCHRL.

  • Reasonable accommodations must be made available for people based on disability, including pregnancy-related disability. Examples may include:
    • Allowing people who are unable to stand in line for extended periods because of a disability to enter the store without waiting in the same line as other customers, or to shop during hours reserved for vulnerable populations.
    • Allowing people with disabilities who rely on the assistance of another person to enter the store with a companion, despite general policy limits restricting access to one person at a time.
  • The Commission has received reports that some stores have excluded parents and caregivers seeking to enter with a child or other dependent, on the ground that only one person may enter at a time. The City and the New York State Department of Agriculture and Markets have advised that stores “have one family member shop at a time, if possible”; however, store policies that categorically exclude customers from entering with a child or dependent may expose them to potential liability under the NYCHRL for discrimination based on age, gender, or disability. Stores may limit the total number of people admitted at a time, but should allow entrance to customers who need to carry out their shopping with their children or other dependents.
  • When faced with a request for a reasonable accommodation for a disability, stores should limit their questions to understanding the type of accommodation that would address the customer's disability-related need. Invasive inquiries about the nature of a person's disability or demands for proof are prohibited. Bearing in mind the added difficulties that people with disabilities may face when shopping during the ongoing crisis, essential retail services are encouraged to take a generous approach to providing reasonable accommodations and to ensure that, regardless of disability, all customers are able to safely obtain their services.

Additional Information

Price gouging is illegal: Medical masks, hand sanitizer, and disinfectant wipes have been temporarily declared in short supply. This means it is illegal for stores to overcharge you for these items during the shortage due to the new coronavirus. For more information, visit the NYC Department of Consumer and Worker Protection.

Paid Safe and Sick Leave Law: With some exceptions, employees who work more than 80 hours in a calendar year are guaranteed paid sick leave under New York City’s Paid Safe and Sick Leave Law. For workers who are sick and have paid sick leave, please use your paid sick leave time. Contact the NYC Department of Consumer and Worker Protection if you face retaliation or face other adverse action such as threats or discipline for using your sick leave. There are additional provisions related to leave under state and federal law that may be applicable to you.