Accommodating religion

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By Matt Crawford On August 17, 2011, the New York City Council unanimously passed Local Law 54 to amend the New York City Administrative Code to adopt the definition of “undue hardship” with reference to an employer’s duty to accommodate an employee’s religious observances.[i] Signed on August 30, 2011 by New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg, the legislation makes the definition of “undue hardship” under the New York City Human Rights Law consistent with New York state law.[ii] Reasonable accommodation is now defined as “such accommodation to an employee’s or prospective employee’s religious observance or practice as shall not cause in the conduct of the employer’s business.”[iii] The legislation, Int. 632-A, imposes a civil penalty of up to 5,000 along with possible compensatory damages, back-pay, and injunctive relief against employers.[iv] The bill was sponsored by Democratic City Councilman Mark Weprin who stated that “The bill sends the message that people should not have to choose between serving our city and adhering to their religious beliefs.”[v] Notably, Weprin was recently defeated by Republican Bob Turner in a special election to fill the vacated seat of former U. Representative Anthony Weiner in New York’s heavily democratic Ninth District.[vi], 2001 terrorist attacks carried out against the United States.[vii] The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission has seen a 25% increase in the number of religious discrimination claims since the attacks, including a doubling of those claims filed by Muslims.[viii] The recent legislation was proposed, at least in part, as a response to New York Police Department rules which prohibited Sikh police officers from wearing turbans as required by their religion and forced them to shave their beards.[ix] MTA employees had also been asked to brand their turbans with the MTA logo.[x] The new legislation lists several factors to take into account for determining whether undue hardship exists for the employer in accommodating an employee’s religious observances.[xi] These factors include, but are not limited to, the nature and cost of accommodation, the overall financial resources of the facility, the number of persons employed at the facility, the effect on expenses, the impact on the operation of the facility, the type of operation and the composition, structure and functions of the business’s workforce.[xii] A recent case from the Western District of New York illustrates the issue of reasonable accommodation quite well.In , decided on August 11, 2011, by Judge Charles Siragusa, an employee refused to work on any “implement of war as prohibited as a result of his being a Jehovah’s Witness.”[xiii] The Dresser Rand Company, for which the plaintiff Harry M.

If you hesitated last month before heartily wishing your employees “Merry Christmas” or “Happy Hanukkah,” you’re not alone.

Case law has suggested that employers should, at a minimum, provide employees with paid religious days off to the extent of the number of religious Christian days that are also statutory holidays.

However, it is not necessary to limit the number of days off for religious observances to the same number of religious Christian days already allowed by the firm.

He is an excellent candidate but makes it clear, when asked whether he would be prepared to cut his dreadlocks to comply with the bank's policy on employees' dress and appearance; that he won't as it would offend his religious and cultural beliefs. Does the employee have an unfair discrimination claim against the bank?

Alan Patten is Professor of Politics at Princeton University.

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