Act Now Advisory: New York City Raises the Bar for Employers to Show 'Undue Hardship' in Addressing Employees' Religious Accommodation Requests

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New York City employers take note: under the New York City Human Rights Law ("NYCHRL"), it is now considerably more difficult for employers to establish "undue hardship" in the context of denying an employee's request for a reasonable accommodation due to his or her religious observance or practice. While previously silent on the issue, the NYCHRL now includes a definition of the term "undue hardship," as follows: "an accommodation 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)." This language mirrors the definition currently included in the New York State Human Rights Law ("NYSHRL"), and along with other changes described below, was included in Local Law 54, 2011 (entitled the Workplace Religious Freedom Act) (the "Act"). The Act was unanimously passed by the New York City Council and became effective when signed by Mayor Michael Bloomberg on August 30, 2011.

The Act should not be a big surprise to employers, as the NYCHRL is one of the more employee-friendly human rights laws in the country. As many employers know, pursuant to federal, State and City law, they must "reasonably" accommodate an employee's sincerely held religious observance or practice, provided that such accommodation does not cause "undue hardship" in the conduct of the employer's business. When an employer denies an employee's request for a reasonable accommodation for religious observance or practice because it would pose an undue hardship on the company, the burden is on the employer to demonstrate that such accommodation would, indeed, cause undue hardship.

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DISCLAIMER: Because of the generality of this update, the information provided herein may not be applicable in all situations and should not be acted upon without specific legal advice based on particular situations.

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