Height and Weight Set to Become Protected Classes in New York City

New York City is poised to become the largest city in the nation to ban discrimination on the basis of a person’s height or weight.

Earlier this month, the New York City Council passed Bill INT 0209, new legislation that would add height” and weight” to the list of classes protected under the New York City Human Rights Law. If the mayor signs or takes no action, the bill becomes law and will take effect 180 days thereafter.

Currently, there are a number of jurisdictions with similar laws banning height and weight discrimination, including Michigan state, Washington State, Washington D.C., San Francisco and a handful of other smaller jurisdictions. Potentially marking a trend, lawmakers in New York State, New Jersey, and Massachusetts have also eyed similar legislation.

Here’s what New York City employers need to know about this likely new law:

  1. The law would not apply when the employer’s action is required by federal, state, or local law or regulation.
  2. The law empowers the NYC Commission on Human Rights to establish jobs or categories of jobs for which (a) a person’s height or weight could prevent the performance of the essential requisites of the job, and (b) the Commission has not found an alternative action an employer could reasonably take to allow the person to perform those requisites. Similarly, the Commission may identify jobs or categories of jobs for which consideration of height and weight is reasonably necessary for the execution of the normal operations of the jobs.
  3. Finally, the law offers employers an affirmative defense. Employers may consider height and weight if they can demonstrate that these characteristics are essential qualifications for performing the job.

What should employers do to prepare?

Given that this bill is likely to become law, employers would be wise to get into compliance now. This means reviewing any existing job descriptions for potentially problematic requirements. Employers may also update any anti-discrimination and anti-harassment policies to include height and weight as protected classes. These new protected characteristics should be added to general training courses and managers should be informed of the new law.

Is more legislation like this coming?

In short, we expect it is. Lawmakers have been expanding anti-discrimination laws to afford workers greater protection and have added new classes to cover everything from cannabis use to hairstyle. This generally follows trends toward creating more inclusive and diverse workplaces. Employers are wise to stay up-to-date on the state and local laws where they operate. For more on how equal opportunity laws are changing this year, see our past post on the trends shaping 2023.

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