Accommodating religious beliefs
Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 requires employers to accommodate an employee’s sincerely-held religious beliefs or practices, unless doing so would create an undue hardship. According to the EEOC, An accommodation may cause undue hardship if it is costly, 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.” So, how about accommodating the sincerely-held religious beliefs of, oh, say, 190 employees?
One example of a religious accommodation would be providing a Muslim employee with a break schedule that allows for daily prayer. Let’s put aside the “no call, no show, walk out.” Instead, we’ll focus on the accommodation issue.
Although there are only a handful of court decisions dealing with the issue of sincerity, the following factors, may help determine the sincerity of an employee’s religious belief: Of course, no factor is dispositive, and as always, an employer should seek additional guidance from a legal professional before making any determination that may lead to a claim of religious discrimination.
For example, an employer may rightfully question the sincerity of an employee’s request to wear a beard as an accommodation from the employer’s grooming policy based on his religious belief, if the employee is a long time employee, has never changed his religion, and has never worn a beard in the past.
While there is no bright line test (there rarely is in employment law) for determining the sincerity of an employee’s religious belief, the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (“EEOC”) has issued guidance in this area.
As a reminder, Connecticut courts often look to federal antidiscrimination decisions and guidance when interpreting the CFEPA.
According to the EEOC, when questioning an employee’s belief, employers should begin with the assumption that any request for accommodation is based on a sincerely held religious belief, even if the employer is unfamiliar with the particular belief or practice.
So, I did what any self respecting employment-lawyer-blogger would do: I Googled “Muslim Prayer Employee Protest Colorado Fired,” and I promised a client-inspired Wednesday post.
For me, it was when a client asked me when I was going to blog about the Muslim workers in Colorado who were denied prayer breaks and, then, allegedly fired for protesting.
When third-party verification is needed, the third-party does not have to be a religious official or member, but can be another who is aware of that employee’s belief.
Employers are cautioned, however, not to demand unnecessary or excessive evidence to support an employee’s claim that he or she has a sincerely held religious belief.
Otherwise, given the scale, I’m struggling to come up with a reasonable accommodation. And, you never know what can work until you talk it out.