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.