December 11, 2019

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December 09, 2019

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New York State Enacts Law Prohibiting Religious Discrimination Based on Appearance

On the heels of enacting a law to prohibit hairstyle discrimination, New York Governor Andrew Cuomo has signed into law a bill that amends the New York State Human Rights Law (NYSHRL) to expressly prohibit employment discrimination based on attire, clothing, or facial hair worn as a form of religious observance.

Specifically, the new law makes it an unlawful discriminatory practice for an employer (or an employee or agent thereof) to impose upon a person as a condition of obtaining or retaining employment – including opportunities for promotion, advancement or transfers – any terms or conditions that would require such person to violate or forego a sincerely held practice of their religion.  Such practices could include, for example, wearing “any attire, clothing, or [having] facial hair in accordance with the requirements of [the employee’s] religion.”  Employers may, however, still take advantage of the undue hardship defense if they are able to demonstrate that they have engaged in a bona fide discussion with the employee or applicant and are unable to reasonably accommodate the employee’s or applicant’s sincerely held religious observance without imposing an undue hardship on the employer’s business.

The new law takes effect sixty days after it was enacted (i.e., on October 8, 2019).  Employers in New York should review their current dress code and grooming policies to ensure compliance with these new requirements.

© 2019 Proskauer Rose LLP.


About this Author

Evandro Gigante, Labor Attorney, Proskauer Rose Law FIrm
Senior Counsel

Evandro Gigante is a Senior Counsel in the Labor & Employment Law Department. He represents and counsels clients through a variety of labor and employment matters, including allegations of race, gender, national origin, disability and religious discrimination, sexual harassment, wrongful discharge, defamation, and breach of contract. Evandro also counsels employers in connection with reductions in force and wage-and-hour issues, and advises clients on restrictive covenant issues, including, for example, confidentiality, non-compete, and non-solicit agreements. 

Arielle Kobetz, Proskauer Law Firm, Labor and Employment Attorney

Arielle Kobetz is an associate in the Labor & Employment Law Department. She assists employers in a wide range of areas, including discrimination, wage and hour, and traditional labor.

Prior to joining Proskauer, Arielle served as a law clerk at the New York City Human Resources Administration, Employment Law Unit, where she worked on a variety of employment discrimination and internal employee disciplinary issues.