Breaking Barriers: New York's historic weight discrimination law

In a world where personal appearance is often scrutinised, New York City is taking a giant leap towards breaking down barriers and promoting inclusivity. A new bill passed by the City Council last month, is set to expand worker protections and make height and weight discrimination a thing of the past. Let's take a closer look at this groundbreaking legislation that aims to foster a more inclusive and fair working environment for all.

A Step Towards Equality

Height and weight have long been sensitive topics that have left many job seekers and employees apprehensive about discrimination based on their physical attributes. However, with the anticipated signature of Mayor Eric Adams, a new bill will be enacted, amending the City's Human Rights Law to include height and weight as protected categories. This move puts New York City at the forefront of the fight against appearance-based discrimination.

Similar to other protected categories, such as race, gender, national origin, and disability, the new law will prohibit employers in New York City from discriminating against applicants and employees based on their actual or perceived height or weight. This significant step will ensure that hiring decisions, promotions, and other employment-related choices are based solely on qualifications and merit, rather than physical appearance.

Exceptions to the Rule

While the bill aims to eliminate discrimination, it also acknowledges specific situations where height and weight considerations may be necessary. The exemptions include cases where preferential treatment based on height or weight is required by federal, state, or local laws, or when an individual's height or weight would impede their ability to perform essential job functions, even with accommodations. Additionally, certain businesses that can demonstrate a reasonable need for specific height or weight requirements may be exempted. The New York City Commission on Human Rights will be responsible for identifying these exceptional cases and ensuring fairness in their application.

New York City's new legislation places it among a select group of cities and states that have already taken steps to combat height and weight discrimination. Binghamton, New York; Madison, Wisconsin; Urbana, Illinois; Washington, D.C.; San Francisco and Santa Cruz, California; and the state of Michigan have enacted similar laws, offering protection against appearance-based discrimination. As public awareness and advocacy increase, more cities and states across the nation are expected to follow suit, with pending legislation in New York, New Jersey, Massachusetts, and Vermont.

Implications for Employers

Employers with operations in New York City are advised to review their handbooks and policies to incorporate these new protected categories. It is essential to ensure compliance with the law and prevent unintended violations. By embracing these changes, businesses can foster a more inclusive and diverse workplace environment that celebrates individuals for their talents, skills, and qualifications rather than their physical attributes.

Published: 16 June 2023