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September 2, 2011

New York City Strengthens Protections Against Workplace Religious Discrimination

On August 30, 2011, Mayor Michael Bloomberg signed into law the Workplace Religious Freedom Act, which will take effect immediately.  The legislation amends New York City’s existing Human Rights Law by placing a higher burden upon employers to show that a requested religious accommodation is unreasonable. 

Under federal, state, and city law, employers are required to provide reasonable accommodations for sincerely held religious beliefs.  Under federal law, an employer may show that a proposed religious accommodation poses an “undue hardship” by demonstrating “more than de minimis” cost or burden.  The New York City Human Rights Law did not previously define the term “undue hardship.”  The new law, however, defines an undue hardship as one that requires “significant expense or difficulty.”  The law also sets forth factors to be considered in determining whether the accommodation constitutes an undue hardship, including:

  • the identifiable cost of the accommodation in relation to the size and operating cost of the employer;
  • the number of individuals who will need the particular accommodation; and
  • the degree to which geographic separateness or administrative or fiscal relationship of an employer’s facilities will make the accommodation more difficult or expensive.

As before, employers should engage in interactive discussions with an employee that requests a religious accommodation.  Employers should ensure, however, that only accommodations that would truly impose a “significant expense or difficulty” are rejected, using the factors discussed above to determine the suitability of any accommodation.  If you have any questions regarding this new law, please contact us.