Avoiding Religious Discrimination Claims by Providing Reasonable Accommodations
By Michael J. Stacchini, Esq.
Federal and State Law require that an employer reasonably accommodate an employee's sincerely held religious practices unless providing such an accommodation will provide an undue hardship to the employer's business. A religious accommodation will cause an undue hardship if the accommodation will impose more than a minimum cost to the employer. In addition, a religious accommodation will cause an undue hardship if the accommodation impairs workplace safety or infringes upon another employee's rights or benefits. For example, an employer is not required to offer a religious accommodation if such accommodation will violate an existing collective bargaining agreement.
Examples of Requests for Religious Accommodation
There are many common examples of employee requests for accommodation based on an employee's religious beliefs. The following are certain requests that an employer may need to address:
- Flexible scheduling to allow time off for religious observance;
- Permission to display religious material at work;
- Time or space for religious observance during the work day;
- An exception to a business's personal appearance code.
For each of the above examples, what constitutes a reasonable accommodation to an employee's religious belief is fact specific to the employee's belief and the hardship the accommodation may place on the particular business. As such, what may be a reasonable accommodation for an employee at a particular business, may not be either reasonable or warranted in another situation. Fortunately, there are some steps that an employer may take to avoid being accused of religious discrimination by failing to provide a reasonable accommodation of an employee's religious practice.
Avoiding Religious Discrimination Claims Initially,
the employer should include in its employee handbook comprehensive policies and procedures that allow an employee to openly communicate an employee's request for a religious accommodation based on a sincerely held religious belief. The employee handbook should be distributed to all employees and all employees should sign an acknowledgment that they have received the handbook and have reviewed the policies and procedures contained in it.
When addressing an employee's requests, the employer should act promptly, clearly document all accommodations offered to the employee and provide the rationale behind providing or refusing an accommodation. Moreover, the employer should take care to be consistent and not treat similarly situated employees in an uneven fashion. Where there is no resulting undue hardship, the employer's accommodation should completely eliminate the conflict between the job duty and the employee's religious beliefs. Perhaps most importantly, the employer should have an open dialogue with the employee to, where possible, fashion a reasonable accommodation that accommodates the employee's religious beliefs without placing an undue hardship on the employer. The attorneys at Vishnick McGovern Milizio LLP , LLP remain available to address any concerns that you may have with respect to assisting your business in providing reasonable accommodations for your employee's religious beliefs.