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NYC Human Rights Law protections based on immigration, citizenship status

Under the New York City Human Rights Law, it is illegal for employers to discriminate against you based on your actual or perceived immigration or citizenship status. Employers are also prohibited from subjecting you to harassment or disparate treatment, such as offering lower pay or inferior benefits, working conditions, privileges, or opportunities, because of your immigration or citizenship status.  

The hiring process

During the interview process, employers must be consistent across the board in how they question applicants. For instance, it is discriminatory for an employer to ask people with an accent or limited English about their work authorization if they do not routinely ask this question of other applicants. 

Document abuse

Once an employer extends a job offer and it is accepted, federal law requires that employees provide evidence of their identity and work authorization from a specific “List of Acceptable Documents.” As long as you provide acceptable documents that verify your identity and work authorization and the documents appear to be genuine, the employer cannot require you to produce documentation beyond what is required by federal law. For instance, your employer cannot demand a specific document, such as a birth certificate or a green card, if the document(s) you have already provided meet federal criteria. Employers are also prohibited from requesting documents before you accept a job offer or refusing to accept a document because it will expire in the future. 

In addition, as long as you provide the required documentation, your employer cannot treat you disparately based on whether you are a citizen, lawful permanent resident, refugee, asylee, or a holder of lawful temporary status. Even if you are not authorized to work in the United States, you are afforded some protections under the NYC Human Rights Law. Under the law, an employer who hires an undocumented worker is prohibited from treating that individual worse than others in the workplace based on their lack of documentation.  


If you are subject to a work culture that is demeaning or humiliating based on your actual or perceived immigration or citizenship status, this is a form of discrimination. Under the NYC Human Rights Law, harassment can take many forms, and even a single derogatory comment made by your employer may be enough to establish harassment. For instance, the use of the term “illegal alien” with the intent to demean or offend you, or threats by your employer to call immigration authorities on you, can qualify as unlawful discrimination. Your employer is strictly liable for unlawful discriminatory practice if the harassing behavior is perpetrated by a manager or supervisor. In cases of harassment by a non-managerial employee, your employer is liable if they knew or should have known about the harassing conduct and failed to take immediate and appropriate corrective action. 

Which employers are impacted by the NYC Human Rights Law

The workplace protections under the NYC Human Rights Law apply to all employers who have four or more employees or one or more domestic workers. They also apply to employment agencies and labor organizations of any size. All persons who work for or apply for jobs at covered New York City employers are entitled to the protections, regardless of whether they live in the city. 

If you believe you have been discriminated against

Some employers believe they can get away with discriminating against immigrant workers on the assumption that those workers will be too fearful to file a complaint. But if you do file a complaint, the NYC Human Rights Law provides protections against retaliation, and there are procedures in place to protect the confidentiality of your immigration status. 

You have up to three years following a discriminatory act to file a complaint in court. If you believe you have been unlawfully discriminated against due to your immigration or citizenship status, speaking to an experienced employment attorney can help you protect yourself and your rights. Contact Katz Melinger PLLC at 212-460-0047 or online.

Dedicated Litigators And Knowledgeable Legal Advocates

The Attorneys of Katz Melinger PLLC