The New York City Council voted to override Mayor Michael Bloomberg’s veto of a bill to amend the New York City Human Rights Law to add protections for unemployed job seekers. Introduced on March 28, 2012, the Bill prohibits employers from basing hiring, compensation, or employment terms and privileges on an individual’s current unemployment status, absent a “substantially job-related reason” for doing so. The Bill does not prevent employers from inquiring into the circumstances surrounding an applicant’s separation from prior employment. It also does not prevent employers from considering “substantially job-related qualifications,” including professional or occupational licenses or certifications or minimum levels of education, training, or experience.

The Bill also prohibits employers from posting job advertisements that list current employment as a job requirement or that claim unemployed applicants will not be considered.

This type of legislation should be familiar to businesses operating in New Jersey, where a similar law went into effect in June 2011. The New York City Bill is unique, however, in that it permits an aggrieved individual to make a complaint to the Commission on Human Rights (“CHR”) or to bring a lawsuit against the employer in court. Employers that violate the Bill may also face civil fines of up to $250,000 and could potentially be found guilty of a misdemeanor punishable by not more than one year imprisonment and/or a $10,000 fine.

When Mayor Bloomberg initially vetoed the Bill on February 22, 2013, he specifically derided the provision permitting individuals to bring claims with the CHR or in court. Mayor Bloomberg noted that this provision would cause a “chilling effect” on hiring, stating that “faced with the prospect of being fined as much as $250,000 per violation by the Human Rights Commission, or perhaps much more at the whims of the courts, the practical effect of this law is that employers would simply choose to hire from within their businesses for fear of being sued.”On March 13, the City Council voted 43-4 to override Mayor Bloomberg’s veto. The Bill takes effect in ninety days, and accordingly, New York City employers should update their hiring practices no later than June 11, 2013 to avoid the hefty penalties associated with this new legislation.