Accommodating employees’ sincere religious beliefs

by on January 21, 2013 · 0 Comment POSTED IN: HR Cafe

Here’s an employee complaint that we’re seeing more and more of these days: An employee claims that a supervisor obliged them to do things that were against their religious beliefs.

What things?

Well, things like working on holy days, removing religiously required items of clothing, or wearing company-mandated attire that violated the employee’s religious notions of modesty or propriety.

Key points
If you’d like to not be one of those sued supervisors, here are a couple of tips on how to handle employees’ religious obligations:

  • Is the person asking to do something (or not do something) out of bona fide religious belief, or just for his or her own convenience? The law requires you to try to accommodate the former, but not the latter. For example, you’d have to take account of an employee’s wish to avoid working on his Friday sabbaths. But you wouldn’t have to accommodate somebody who made a one-time “religious” request for a Friday off so as to get a long weekend.
  • You can refuse an employee’s request for a religious accommodation only if it would cause what the law calls “undue hardship.” It might be undue hardship, for instance, if an employee whose job required a safety respirator insisted on wearing a religiously-mandated beard. (Beards break the respirator’s seal.) But undue hardship is tough to prove in court. Most of the time, you can find an accommodation, even if it’s not the one the employee suggests.

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