Overview of Religious Discrimination in New York
Employees in New York are protected from religious discrimination under two laws: New York’s State Human Rights Law (NYSHRL) and Title VII of the Federal Civil Rights Act. Federal law doesn’t kick in until an employer has 15 employees but New York law covers companies with four employees or more.
The function of both laws is largely the same – to prohibit discrimination based on religion in the workplace and offer a remedy for those discriminated against. Under both laws, employers are prohibited from taking adverse actions (firing, demoting, reprimanding) against employees on the basis of their religion. They are also mandated to provide religious accommodations to an employee when doing so would not impose an undue hardship on the employer. These rights only apply to sincerely held religious beliefs.
For example, if it didn’t result in an unreasonable hardship to the employer, an employer would likely be required to allow an employee with a religious mandate to take a brief afternoon break for prayer mandated by their religion.
A New Case
Things are heating up in New York federal court where the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) filed a major religious discrimination case against UPS. The EEOC, a federal agency that helps enforce federal anti-employment discrimination laws, brought suit against UPS on behalf of male employees that were forced to comply with UPS’s look guidelines, which included shaving beards that some including Muslims and Rastafarians wore to comply with their religion. One employee was even allegedly told that “God would understand” if he shaved his beard.
How will this case turn out? An old case gives us some clues.
An Old Case
In an earlier employment law blog, we discussed the case of EEOC v. Abercrombie, which at the time was pending before the United States Supreme Court. As a refresher, that case involved a young woman who had been denied employment at Abercrombie & Fitch due to the headscarf worn to her interview because it conflicting with Abercrombie’s prohibition against head coverings.
The woman wore the headscarf, a hijab, for religious reasons but never expressly disclosed the purpose to her prospective employer. A decision was reached last month, with all but one Justice agreeing with the decision. The Court held that even where “An employer who acts with the motive of avoiding accommodation may violate Title VII even if he has no more than an unsubstantiated suspicion that accommodation would be needed.” The decision, aligned with common sense, shifts a heavier burden to employers with respect to preventing religious discrimination,
If you have experienced an unexpected adverse employment event based on your religion or other classification, let the attorneys at Joseph & Norinsberg (Phone: 212-JUSTICE) help you evaluate and vindicate your legal rights under New York and Federal anti-discrimination laws. We approach each case with an empathetic understanding of the emotional impact of such occurrences and a drive to remedy wrongful conduct in the employment context.