Projects, Units & Initiatives
The Worker Justice Project, an initiative of The Legal Aid Society’s Criminal Defense Practice, combats discrimination faced by workers with arrest or conviction records living in New York City. Every day employers and licensing agencies unfairly deny qualified individuals the opportunity to work because of pending charges, past convictions, and even sealed or dismissed cases. This discrimination prevents countless New Yorkers from maintaining financial stability and supporting their families—and further disenfranchises people of color already subjected to discriminatory employment practices and the racist administration of criminal justice.
The Worker Justice Project fights this discrimination through a bold and comprehensive approach. The Project advises Criminal Defense Practice staff on the employment consequences of criminal case dispositions in order to minimize harm to clients’ job opportunities, and empowers workers with records to defend their rights. The Project also enforces the rights of workers who are unlawfully denied jobs or licenses because of arrest or conviction records by representing workers in administrative proceedings, pre-litigation advocacy, and affirmative litigation. Finally, the Project challenges government policies that create barriers to employment and advocates for legislative solutions to effect systemic change.
Since 2019, the Worker Justice Project has represented clients and provided advice in more than 4,600 cases. Our services have enabled our clients to obtain and retain jobs and occupational licenses—and to support themselves and their families.
The Worker Justice Project won a major victory in 2021 when a bill we advocated for was enacted into law. The bill expanded the New York City Fair Chance Act to prohibit employment discrimination against people with pending criminal cases, unless the employer properly determines, after considering seven fair chance factors, that (1) there is a direct relationship between the alleged offense and the job, or (2) employing the person would involve an unreasonable risk to people or property. Before the bill went into effect in July 2021, employers had near-total discretion to discriminate against people with pending criminal cases, even though only a small percentage of cases end in a criminal conviction.
The Worker Justice Project is zealously enforcing the new antidiscrimination protections. Since the Fair Chance Act amendment went into effect, the Worker Justice Project has successfully helped dozens of our clients with a pending criminal case to obtain employment or reinstatement; in many of those cases, our clients have also received financial compensation. For example, when our client Ms. C, a home health aide, was arrested earlier this year, her employer suspended her employment. The Worker Justice Project quickly sent a demand letter to Ms. C’s employer explaining that the employer’s conduct violated the amended Fair Chance Act, and advising that the Worker Justice Project was prepared to take legal action if Ms. C was not immediately reinstated. As a result of the Worker Justice Project’s advocacy, Ms. C’s employer reinstated her to her job immediately, and also agreed to pay her two weeks of back pay for the shifts she had missed due to the suspension. After Ms. C was back at work, she was able to continue providing for her family while she fought her criminal case.
What You Need to Know About Discrimination Based on Arrest and Conviction Records
What You Need to Know About Certificates of Relief & Certificates of Good Conduct
What You Need to Know About Background Checks
What You Need to Know About Background Checks as a Home Health Aide or Certified Nursing Assistant
Contact the Worker Justice Project at WorkerJustice@legal-aid.org or call 888-663-6880 Monday through Friday from 10:00 a.m. to 3:00 p.m.
Last Updated: 31 October 2022
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