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Legislative Memo

BILL:

S.5708 (Marcellino) / A.7073 (DiNapoli)

Support

SUBJECT:

Religious apparel

 

DATE:

May 7, 2004

 

This bill would amend the Executive law and provide human rights law protection to individuals who wear religious apparel. The Business Council opposes its enactment.

Duplication of employee protection

Chapter 539 of the laws of 2002 was signed by the Governor on September 17, 2002. This bill significantly increased employer responsibilities in the area of religious accommodation. Specifically, under paragraph (a) of subdivision 10 of section 296 of the executive law, it prohibited employers from imposing “...any terms or conditions that would require such person to violate or forego a sincerely held practice of his or her religion...”

The wearing of a customary turban as an item of religious apparel, as provided for in this bill, is already protected by current New York State law.

Employer protection

Chapter 539 of the laws of 2002 also afforded some flexibility to employers in the area of religious accommodation. Specifically, if the employer could demonstrate that accommodating the employee's religious practice would cause an undo hardship on the conduct of the employer's business, the employer could prohibit the religious practice. But the law set a high standard for an employer to demonstrate such undue hardship. Factors that could be considered include the cost of accommodation, the number of employees needing the accommodation, the size and locations of the employer's operations, the effect on safety and efficiency in the workplace and whether the accommodation violated a seniority system.

As a practical matter, employers have a steep hill to climb to demonstrate undue hardship because the provisions of the law were designed to set a difficult standard.

This bill affords the employer no such undue hardship provisions and makes the requirement to accommodate absolute. That could prove unrealistic and unworkable to an employer especially in certain industrial settings requiring protective gear or clothing.

For these reasons, The Business Council opposes this legislation and respectfully urges that it not be enacted by the Senate.