Religious Accommodation – Just in Time for the Holidays

UPS recently paid $70,000 to settle a claim based its alleged failure to accommodate an employee who asked to change his schedule to attend an annual religious service and its termination of the employee a few days after he asked to change his schedule. The EEOC alleged that UPS’ actions constituted religious discrimination. Under Title VII, employers are required to reasonably accommodate employees whose sincerely held religious beliefs, practices or observances conflict with work requirements, unless the accommodation would create an undue hardship. An accommodation may cause undue hardship if it would cause more than a de minimis cost on the operation of the employer’s business which is determined by evaluating whether the accommodation is expensive, compromises workplace safety, decreases workplace efficiency, infringes on the rights of other employees, or requires other employees to do more than their share of potentially hazardous or burdensome work. http://www.eeoc.gov/policy/docs/qanda_religion.html

Note, however, that recent case law suggests that an employer’s obligation to accommodate does not arise until an employee has requested an accommodation and put the employer on notice that the employee’s beliefs, practices or observances conflict with a workplace rule or job requirement. http://www.ca10.uscourts.gov/opinions/11/11-5110.pdf

So, as the holidays approach, employers need to carefully assess employee requests for religious accommodation, and objectively balance the request against the impact such requests will have on the workplace.

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