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Human Rights Commission issues guidance on age discrimination amid COVID-19

July 29, 2020 Rob Abruzzese
Borough President Eric Adams has approved three Brooklyn affordable-housing projects. Photo: Paul Frangipane/Brooklyn Eagle
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The COVID-19 pandemic has forced many New Yorkers to work from home and rely on technology more than ever to do their jobs, which has led to an environment of increased age discrimination, according to the NYC Commission on Human Rights.

The commissioner issued guidance on Tuesday for companies to avoid running afoul of the law and to recommend good practices.

“Every person in the workforce deserves to be treated with dignity and respect, regardless of age,” said Carmelyn Malalis, chair and commissioner of the NYC Commission on Human Rights. “This guidance serves as a reminder that harmful stereotypes about age abound in our society, and that age discrimination remains prevalent because of these pernicious stereotypes, impacting workers at a time when workplace rights are critical.

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“We are hopeful that this guidance will add to the chorus of advocates challenging the norms that allow older workers to be cast aside or prejudged, and young workers to be dismissed.”

The legal enforcement guidance outlines specific ways in which age discrimination arises during recruitment, hiring, internal policies, harassment and termination of employees. It addresses best practices for employers with specific instructions for COVID-19 concerns.

Carmelyn Malalis, chair and commissioner of the NYC Commission on Human Rights. Photo courtesy of NYC Commission on Human Rights

The commission is particularly concerned about older employees in long-held positions that could be forced to retire early, or younger workers who are seen as easily dispensable. The commission says that workers over the age of 50 are most often targeted and pointed out that studies have shown that a diverse age range in the office can increase productivity, job satisfaction and morale.

The commission said that the COVID-19 pandemic has exacerbated conditions for younger workers because 48 percent of people age 16 to 24 work in industries most affected by COVID, such as restaurants, bars, gyms and coffee shops, while only 24 percent of all other workers hold such jobs.

Older workers are at risk of facing long-term unemployment and unemployment rates for adults aged 55 and older went from 3.3 percent to 13.6 percent since the pandemic started, according to the Commission on Human Rights.

“Age discrimination is unfortunately still a pervasive problem throughout society, including in the workplace,” said Brooklyn Borough President Eric Adams. “At a time when the COVID-19 pandemic has created an economic crisis unparalleled in modern history, it is more critical than ever that those in the workforce and those looking to re-enter the workforce understand their rights under New York City’s Human Rights Law. I thank Mayor de Blasio and Commissioner Malalis for reaffirming and underscoring that all workers, regardless of age, have a place in our economy.”

The NYC Commission on Human Rights often holds workshops for advocates and community organizations to inform New Yorkers about their rights under the NYC Human Rights Law. Specifically, it has held more than 100 age discrimination and age diversity events in NYC during its fiscal year 2020.

Anyone experiencing discrimination should call the NYC Commission on Human Rights at (212) 416-0197 or visit its website.

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