Religious Accommodation: What Every Supervisor Must Know

Get access to this training video now and learn how to avoid the common mistakes that too often lead to claims of religious discrimination. You’ll learn:

  • How well-intentioned managers can make decisions that expose them to claims of religious discrimination
  • What the law requires when an employee asks for a religious accommodation
  • Four rules that can help you respond to religious accommodation requests correctly

Why are we giving you all of this for free? Because it’s the best way we know to introduce you to a new approach to employment law compliance training.

Here’s how it works: Request your video on religious accommodations now and we’ll email you a user name and password that gives you instant access to the Employment Law Compliance & Human Resources Rapid Learning Centers. There you’ll find your free video on religious accommodations and a collection of other training resources for managers, supervisors and HR professionals. You’ll have unlimited access to this powerful library of e-learning modules, reports and fast-read articles.

More information for those who love the details …

Religious discrimination in the workplace: Where do you draw the line?

With minor exceptions, the U.S. Civil Rights Act bars employers from discriminating based on religion. That seems straightforward. But in the real world the issues can get complicated. What happens, for example, when you announce the new weekend schedule and suddenly everyone decides they have to go to church? Can employees get a religious accommodation if they don’t believe in God? If your worker says his religion requires him to eat cat food at his desk all day, do you have to go along? (That last one is a true story.)

It’s hard to know where the line is. Even the courts have trouble sorting it all out.

Access your video now and learn the ins and outs you need to know to prevent claims of religious discrimination.

Religious Accommodations: The Four Rules of Staying Compliant

Fortunately, you don’t have to be an expert on religious discrimination claims. There are four easy-to-follow rules that can keep you on the right side of the law.

Religious Discrimination Rule #1: Assume good faith.

The courts and EEOC use a general test to determine which beliefs rise to the level of religion:

The beliefs must amount to “moral or ethical beliefs as to what is right and wrong, which are sincerely held with the strength of traditional religious views.” These beliefs must concern “ultimate ideas about life, purpose and death.”

So, for example, an atheist may be entitled to a religious accommodation to skip prayers at a company meeting. But eating cat food doesn’t pass muster, because it doesn’t involve “ultimate ideas about life, purpose and death.”

There are lots of gray-area cases, but in the real world, the vast majority of requests involve organized religions. And in those cases it’s best to assume the request is made in good faith.

Religious Discrimination Rule #2: Say yes when you can. Employers can deny a request if it creates a “more than de minimis” cost or burden for the company – for example, if it:

  • Diminishes efficiency
  • Infringes on other workers’ rights or benefits
  • Impairs safety
  • Or unfairly shifts work onto other employees.

But there must be an actual, identifiable undue burden. And when these cases land in court, companies often have a hard time substantiating such an undue burden.

Religious Discrimination Rule #3: If the answer is no, let HR deliver the news. These are delicate and legally risky conversations, so you’re better off leaving them to the experts.

And if you do say no, make sure it’s only for business reasons, and that your personal beliefs aren’t affecting your judgment. More than any other error or miscue you could make, that’s the one most likely to land you in court.

Religious Discrimination Rule #4: Don’t treat employees differently because they have an accommodation. That’s discrimination, even if your intentions are good.

So what should you do if, say, you have an employee with an accommodation who’s applying for a promotion that might conflict with the accommodation? Treat that employee like you would anyone else. If that employee is the stronger candidate, offer them the position; if they choose to take the promotion and sacrifice the accommodation (or vice versa), that’s their decision.

Religious accommodations should be as narrow as possible

So, what sort of accommodation will you need to grant? The most common requests are:

  • A schedule change to attend services, attend religious ceremonies or avoid working on the Sabbath.
  • An exception to dress and grooming standards – for example, allowing an employee to wear a headscarf
  • Placement of religious symbols in the employee’s personal work area.

You don’t have to give employees a blank check to set their own work rules. Tailor the accommodation narrowly. That’s usually best for the company AND the employee.

The idea is to find and eliminate specific conflicts. Draw a narrow exception to the rule. You’re less likely to have other employees arguing that they too should be entitled to an accommodation. And your religious employee is less likely to feel singled out. Everyone wins.

Access this video now as part of a free trial to the Employment Law Compliance & Human Resources Rapid Learning Centers.


Steve Meyer
Stephen Meyer
CEO, Rapid Learning Institute


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