New York law to ensure freedom to Sikhs employees

NEW YORK: Sikhs in the US will be allowed to wear turbans and grow beards in federal agencies like the police department and transit authority after New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg today signed into law a bill that will ensure freedom for employees to practice religious beliefs at workplace.

The ‘Workplace Religious Freedom’ bill was initiated by civil rights group Sikh Coalition and sponsored by Queens Democrat Council member Mark Weprin.

In signing the law, Bloomberg said employers must make a “reasonable accommodation” for an employee’s religious practices unless following such practices creates an “undue hardship.”

The undue hardship is now defined as requiring “significant expense or difficulty.”

“This bill sends the message that people should not have to choose between serving our city and adhering to their religious beliefs. All Americans should receive the full embrace of our country’s constitutional freedoms,” Weprin said.

Sikh Coalition’s program director and co-founder Amardeep Singh said the law would ensure that religious minorities like Sikhs and Muslims in the US are not discriminated against by their employers for practicing their religion.

“The law is a major step in ensuring Sikhs and other religious minorities are not unfairly excluded from jobs for which they are otherwise qualified,” Singh told PTI.

He said a few Sikhs were told by the New York Police Department (NYPD) that they could not wear their turbans as traffic agents.

Similarly, Sikhs and Muslim workers at the Metropolitan Transit Authority (MTA) were forced to brand their religious headwear with an MTA logo. The Metropolitan Transit Authority (MTA) began imposing this job requirement on Sikh and Muslim workers soon after 9/11, Singh added.

The new legislation would put pressure on public and private employers, not just the NYPD, to allow their employees the freedom to follow their religious beliefs.

In 2004, a few Sikhs were told by the NYPD that they could not wear their turbans as traffic agents. The Sikhs were reinstated into the NYPD after seeking legal redress and allowed to wear turbans only under specific conditions.

Weprin had drafted the legislation after hearing from members of the Sikh community that they had encountered resistance from government agencies over wearing the turban. -PTI

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