New York: New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg has signed into law a bill initiated by the Sikh Coalition to significantly enhance religion-based protections for employees working in the metropolis.
"Today`s law is a major step forward in ensuring Sikhs and other religious minorities are not unfairly excluded from jobs for which they are otherwise qualified," said Amardeep Singh, programme director and co-founder of the community advocacy group.
Called the "Workplace Religious Freedom Act", the new law would change the legal standard by which courts review claims of religious workplace discrimination by public and private city employees.
Under previous city law, employers are required to make "reasonable accommodations" for the religious practices of their employees.
However, employers can bypass this requirement by showing that such accommodations would impose a minimal difficulty or expense on the employer`s business.
The new law will still allow employers to deny religious accommodations, but only by proving that such accommodations would constitute a "significant difficulty or expense”, the Sikh Coalition said.
The current law does not allow Sikhs to work for the New York City Police Department unless they remove their turbans, the Coalition said.
Similarly, Sikh and Muslim workers who currently work for the Metropolitan Transit Authority (MTA) are forced to brand their religious headwear with an MTA logo.
While the new law does not force either the MTA or NYPD to accept Sikhs with their full articles of faith, it creates a legal framework within city law that makes it very difficult to continue to exclude them from city jobs, the coalition said.
Citing a research report issued by it in 2008, the group alleged one in ten Sikhs in New York City reported suffering discrimination in employment.