Opinion: Employment discrimination in New York City must end
New York City’s unemployment rate has reached its lowest point in over a year, down to 4.8 percent in September from 7.2 percent in February. The city has added nearly 70,000 jobs over the last year, but despite this economic uptick, these jobs are still out of reach for many qualified New Yorkers.
Discrimination continues to be one of the biggest barriers to employment for job seekers today. Far too often, applicants with poor credit history or a criminal record are excluded from consideration. Otherwise talented New Yorkers are being denied access to jobs they are qualified for, and with it, a chance at an economic future.
This practice is not only unfair and unnecessary, it is now illegal in New York City.
Two new laws were recently added to the New York City Human Rights Law making it illegal for city employers to discriminate against applicants and employees based on their credit scores and criminal histories. These laws, which the New York City Commission on Human Rights is actively enforcing, will open new doors for many well-qualified New Yorkers looking for work.
The Fair Chance Act now makes it illegal for private and public employers in New York City to inquire about a job applicant’s criminal history until after a conditional offer has been made. By requiring an employer to wait to run a criminal background check and to remove questions about criminal history from job applications, New Yorkers get an opportunity to be considered on their merits first, not their mistakes. Employers also gain access to a new host of qualified candidates.
There are, however, a few exempted employers, including the Police Department and Fire Department, as well as other city agencies that are required by law to conduct criminal background checks.
Earlier this month, President Barack Obama directed federal agencies to “ban the box,” prohibiting them from inquiring about criminal histories on job applications. New York City joins more than 100 cities and 19 states nationwide that have some sort of protections against employment discrimination based on criminal history.
The Stop Credit Discrimination in Employment Act was also recently added to the city’s Human Rights law, making it illegal for employers to run a job applicant’s credit report or use a person’s credit history to make employment decisions. The law protects hardworking New Yorkers with bad credit scores and gives them an equal opportunity at employment.
The City Council overwhelmingly supported these bills, and Mayor Bill de Blasio signed them into law, for good reason.
Nearly five million New Yorkers statewide have a criminal history, disproportionately low-income residents and people of color. When people are denied employment opportunities, the risk of recidivism goes up, as does the chance that they will end up in poverty.
Removing these unnecessary barriers gives people with a criminal history an equal opportunity to enter the workforce, move forward with their lives and support themselves and their families. Folks who have paid their debt to society should get a fair shot at employment.
Likewise, an individual’s credit score should not disqualify them from employment. Studies show no correlation between a person’s credit and their ability to perform or be trusted in a job. Furthermore, credit reports were never designed to be indicators for employment purposes, but instead a predictor of consumers’ credit risks. Relying on credit scores in employment merely limits employers’ access to well-qualified applicants.
The New York City Commission on Human Rights is committed to ending discriminatory hiring practices through aggressive enforcement of these laws and broad public education campaigns to inform job seekers, employees and businesses about how to comply with the law.
The commission runs free, monthly trainings across the city and has launched public outreach campaigns including subway, radio and newspaper ads about the law. If you believe your rights have been violated, call 311 and ask for the Commission on Human Rights. Employers with questions about the law should also contact the commission or attend a free know-your-obligations training.
New Yorkers are more than their criminal and credit histories. Everyone deserves a fair chance at employment. Opportunity, after all, is what this city was built on.
Carmelyn P. Malalis is the commissioner and chair of the New York City Commission on Human Rights, the agency charged with enforcing the New York City Human Rights Law.