Agudath Israel of America has announced the release of an updated version of its “Guide to Religious Rights in the Workplace,” edited by Agudath Israel’s General Counsel Rabbi Mordechai Biser, which provides answers to common questions and difficulties encountered by employees trying to accommodate their religious observance.
Throughout the year, the organization receives calls from individuals who wish to practice their religion but face challenges from their employers or who are looking for a job that will accommodate their observance. The guide is especially essential at this time, in the months of September and October, with so many Jewish holidays coming close together and causing these issues to surface, which makes this new edition even more important.
In addition to the Guide, Agudath Israel’s Legal Services Department has a new website, www.legalsupportservicesllc.org, which contains additional information for those facing the problem of religious accommodation.
According to Rabbi Biser, Agudath Israel has a long history of advocating for the rights of observant employees.
“We helped draft and successfully advocate for passage of laws in New York, New Jersey, and elsewhere that require employers to accommodate employees who need to take time off for religious reasons. As a matter of fact, New York State now has the toughest law in the country on this point.”
According to the law, employers must offer employees a reasonable method of fulfilling their duties that is not in conflict with their religious principles. While the law states that employers are not required to incur undue hardship for the sake of such accommodation, the burden of proving hardship is on the employer.
The guide includes a special question and answer section providing legal advice to common questions concerning religious employee rights and obligations.
The guide may be obtained, free of charge, by contacting Agudath Israel’s Office of Constituent Services at 212-797-9000, extension 335, or by email@example.com. It is also available at www.legalsupportservicesllc.org, as a PDF downloadable file.
Jewish Students in New York Have Religious Rights Too
This morning, the first business day after Rosh Hashana, the Legal Services Department of Agudath Israel of America received a call with a request for help for a few college students whose professor had forced them to come to class on Rosh Hashana or risk failing their course or being expelled!!
Unfortunately, not all people are aware that there are clear and strict laws in New York State, among others, which protect students from such discrimination. This professor’s behavior was patently illegal.
With Yom Kippur and Sukkos on the horizon, Agudath Israel’s Legal Services Department would like to publicize this law. If any student has a problem with being forced to violate his/her religious observance, he/she can show this law to the professor or school administration.
Following is the text of the law:
New York Education Law § 224-a. Students Unable Because of Religious Beliefs to Register or Attend Classes on Certain Days
1. No person shall be expelled from or be refused admission as a student to an institution of higher education for the reason that he or she is unable, because of his or her religious beliefs, to register or attend classes or to participate in any examination, study or work requirements on a particular day or days.
2. Any student in an institution of higher education who is unable, because of his or her religious beliefs, to attend classes on a particular day or days shall, because of such absence on the particular day or days, be excused from any examination or any study or work requirements.
3. It shall be the responsibility of the faculty and of the administrative officials of each institution of higher education to make available to each student who is absent from school, because of his or her religious beliefs, an equivalent opportunity to register for classes or make up any examination, study or work requirements which he or she may have missed because of such absence on any particular day or days. No fees of any kind shall be charged by the institution for making available to the said student such equivalent opportunity.
4. If registration, classes, examinations, study or work requirements are held on Friday after four o’clock post meridian or on Saturday, similar or makeup classes, examinations, study or work requirements or opportunity to register shall be made available on other days, where it is possible and practicable to do so. No special fees shall be charged to the student for these classes, examinations, study or work requirements or registration held on other days.
5. In effectuating the provisions of this section, it shall be the duty of the faculty and of the administrative officials of each institution of higher education to exercise the fullest measure of good faith. No adverse or prejudicial effects shall result to any student because of his or her availing himself or herself of the provisions of this section.
6. Any student, who is aggrieved by the alleged failure of any faculty or administrative officials to comply in good faith with the provisions of this section, shall be entitled to maintain an action or proceeding in the supreme court of the county in which such institution of higher education is located for the enforcement of his or her rights under this section.
6-a. It shall be the responsibility of the administrative officials of each institution of higher education to give written notice to students of their rights under this section, informing them that each student who is absent from school, because of his or her religious beliefs, must be given an equivalent opportunity to register for classes or make up any examination, study or work requirements which he or she may have missed because of such absence on any particular day or days.
No fees of any kind shall be charged by the institution for making available to such student such equivalent opportunity.
7. As used in this section, the term “institution of higher education” shall mean any institution of higher education, recognized and approved by the regents of the university of the state of New York, which provides a course of study leading to the granting of a post-secondary degree or diploma. Such term shall not include any institution which is operated, supervised or controlled by a church or by a religious or denominational organization whose educational programs are principally designed for the purpose of training ministers or other religious functionaries or for the purpose of propagating religious doctrines. As used in this section, the term “religious belief” shall mean beliefs associated with any corporation organized and operated exclusively for religious purposes, which is not disqualified for tax exemption under section 501 of the United States Code.
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IN ADDITION, following is a SAMPLE LETTER a student can bring to his/her Dean, professors and school administration:
This letter is in regard to my legal rights as a Sabbath observer, in particular with regard to attending classes and taking exams in an institution of higher education in New York State.
New York Education Law §224-a states clearly that “[a]ny student in an institution of higher education who is unable, because of his or her religious beliefs, to attend classes on a particular day or days shall, because of such absence on the particular day or days, be excused from any examination or any study or work requirements.” The statute goes on to state that it is the responsibility of the faculty of the institution in such cases to make available to such students “an equivalent opportunity” to make up “any examination, study or work requirements which he or she may have missed” due to absences for religious reasons. The full text of Education Law §224 can be found above. Please read it thoroughly to understand your legal rights in this regard.
Accordingly, you are required by law to enable me to pursue my particular course of study and to accommodate my need to be absent on the Sabbath and other Jewish holidays.
If you need further assistance or would like help to clarify the law in another state, please call the Legal Services Department of Agudath Israel of America at212-797-9000 ext. 335. Or email firstname.lastname@example.org.