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NY State Bans Discrimination Based on Religious Attire, Clothing, and Facial Hair

On August 9, 2019, New York state amended its Human Rights Law (NYSHRL) to expressly include the workplace protection of religious attire, clothing, and facial hair. The law becomes effective in sixty (60) days, on October 8, 2019.

While religious discrimination has long been outlawed under both state and federal law, this amendment makes clear that the definition of religion in New York state’s existing anti-discrimination statute includes bias against any employee’s religious clothing, facial hair, or attire. The law does not define the terms “attire,” “clothing,” or “facial hair,” but is based, in part, on an employee who was required to remove his turban or affix a company logo to it. Clearly, the new protections would include turbans, headscarves, hijabs, burqas, yarmulkes, and beards worn for religious purposes. The law would also prohibit employers from requiring employees to affix company logos to religious attire or clothing. It is unclear whether the new protections would extend to jewelry, body piercings, or tattoos with religious significance. 

An employer engages in an unlawful discriminatory practice when it requires an employee to violate or forego the wearing of attire, clothing, or facial hair in accordance with the requirements of his or her religion unless the employer demonstrates that it is unable to reasonably accommodate the employee's religious practice without undue hardship on the conduct of its business.

Private employers with appearance or grooming policies are encouraged to review their policies with counsel to ensure there are appropriate accommodation procedures in place in order to avoid running afoul of the NYSHRL protections.

©2020 Greenberg Traurig, LLP. All rights reserved. National Law Review, Volume IX, Number 225


About this Author

Wendy Johnson Lario, Greenberg Traurig Law Firm, New Jersey, Labor and Employment Attorney

Wendy Johnson Lario is an attorney at the New Jersey Labor & Employment Practice and represents employers in litigation involving claims of discrimination, harassment, retaliation, wrongful termination and whistleblowing, among others. She appears regularly in federal and state courts in New Jersey and New York and defends employers against charges filed with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC), the New Jersey Division on Civil Rights (NJDCR) and the New York Division of Human Rights (NYDHR). Wendy also provides advice and training to management and in...

Courteney Caine Employment Attorney

Courteney Lario Caine focuses her practice on representing employers and managers in employment disputes arising under employment laws, including Title VII of the Civil Rights Act, the Pregnancy Discrimination Act, the ADEA, the ADA, the FMLA, the Conscientious Employee Protection Act, the New Jersey Law Against Discrimination, and the New Jersey Family Leave Act. Courteney has extensive litigation experience defending discrimination, wrongful discharge, and wage-and-hour cases in state and federal courts.

Courteney also counsels clients in a variety of employment matters including drafting policies, handbooks, confidentiality agreements, offer letters, employment contracts, arbitration agreements, restrictive covenants, and training programs; ensuring wage and hour and ADA compliance; and defending Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) and state fair employment practice agency charges.

In addition, Courteney also handles large-scale commercial litigation matters, including corporate contract disputes, class actions, and nationwide product liability matters. Courteney also devotes a significant amount of her time to pro bono efforts.

Courteney earned a J.D. from Seton Hall University School of Law, cum laude, where she served as the Editor-in-Chief of the Seton Hall Legislative Journal and also worked as a legal intern for the Honorable Stuart Rabner, Chief Justice of the New Jersey Supreme Court, and the Honorable Faith S. Hochberg, United States District Judge for the District of New Jersey. Prior to law school, she earned a Bachelor of Arts from Georgetown University.