NYC Council Strengthens Religious Accommodation Law

August 24, 2011

By: Subhash Viswanathan

On August 17, 2011, the New York City Council passed an amendment to the New York City Human Rights Law which will impose a higher burden on employers who assert that accommodating an employee’s or prospective employee’s religious observance or practice would constitute an “undue hardship.”

The amendment defines “undue hardship” as “requiring significant expense or difficulty (including a significant interference with the safe or efficient operation of the workplace or a violation of a bona fide seniority system).” The amendment also lists various factors that will be considered in determining whether the accommodation constitutes an undue economic hardship such as:

(i) the identifiable cost of the accommodation, including the costs of loss of productivity and of retaining or hiring employees or transferring employees from one facility to another, in relation to the size and operating cost of the employer;
(ii) the number of individuals who will need the particular accommodation to a sincerely held religious observance or practice; and
(iii) the degree to which the geographic separateness or administrative or fiscal relationship of the employer’s facilities (for employers with multiple facilities) will make the accommodation more difficult or expensive.

An employee or prospective employee is still required to show that the requested accommodation does not prevent him or her from performing the essential functions of the position.

Once Mayor Bloomberg signs the bill, the law will take effect immediately, impacting New York City employers and non-resident employers who may have employees working in New York City. Employers should review their job descriptions to ensure that the essential functions of the position are accurately described. Employers who have received religious accommodation requests should engage in an interactive process with the employee and use the above factors as parameters for granting or denying a request.