ANNAPOLIS – The Maryland State Legislature is presently considering a state-level Workplace Religious Freedom Act" (HB 381).  The bill, currently working its way through the House where it was heard on February 10, 2010, addresses employee requests for observance of holy days.

Modeled on the Maryland Flexible Leave Act, the Maryland Workplace Religious Freedom Act would require employers with 15 or more employees to allow an employee to use accrued leave to observe a Sabbath, or other holy day, in accordance with a sincerely held religious belief.
The bill purports to require employers to make reasonable attempts to accommodate the sincere religious practices of their employees and is an attempt to overcome some of the hurdles religiously observant employees face as a result of the U.S. Supreme Court's decision in TWA v. Hardison. In Hardison, the Court stated that employers only need to make a di minimis attempt to accommodate holy day observance or other religious practices and many employers have interpreted this to mean that they do not need to accommodate as a matter of policy.

In his testimony on February 10, 2010, Alejandro J. Beutel, Government Liaison Muslim Public Affairs Council in Washington, D.C., wrote, "this bill will move the balance between proper workplace accommodation and the legitimate concerns of businesses in the right direction. It seeks to better fulfill Maryland's strong commitment to religious liberty without jeopardizing our communities'  economic prosperity – a laudable and achievable goal."

This bill which focuses on holy day observance  is significantly different from the identically named  federal Workplace Religious Freedom Act that has been proposed throughout the decade and the recently passed Oregon Workplace Religious Freedom Act which addressed both holy day observance and religious dress.  The Maryland bill also indicates that labor union contracts would trump the individual requests of employees for accommodation if there is a conflict.  Also, the bill would provide specific economic relief for the employee in the event that he or she is compelled to work on a holy day in violation of his or her beliefs.

Click here to read the Bill Text in PDF format.

 

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