On August 30, 2011, New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg signed “The Workplace Religious Freedom Act,” which went into effect immediately. The law requires city employers to provide employees with reasonable accommodations for religious observance unless the accommodation causes an “undue hardship” on the employer’s business. An “undue hardship” is defined as 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. The legislation also identifies other factors to consider in determining whether an accommodation constitutes an undue economic hardship:

  • The identifiable cost of the accommodation, including the costs of loss of productivity and of retaining or hiring employees or transferring employees from one facility to another, in relation to the size and operating cost of the employer;
  • The number of individuals who will need the particular accommodation; and
  • For an employer with multiple facilities, the degree to which the geographic separateness or administrative or fiscal relationship of the facilities will make the accommodation more difficult or expensive.

Employers that fail to provide religious accommodations may be liable for a civil penalty up to $125,000 and other potential remedies, including: reinstatement, back pay, compensatory damages, punitive damages and attorneys’ fees.

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