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Religious Accommodations: What Do You Have to Do?


If you have employees, it is bound to happen: an employee will, at some point, ask you to make a religious accommodation for an employee at work. But do you have to do that? And how far do you have to go, in making such an accommodation?

More Accommodation, Not Less

The law is very much skewing towards more, not less, religious accommodations for employees at work.

The United States Supreme Court just recently affirmed this idea, when it said the U.S. Post office had to allow a postal worker off of work on Sunday for religious reasons.

As a government employer, the Post Office case fell under the 1st Amendment. If you are a private employer, you won’t have to worry about that, but you will have to worry about other religious discrimination laws that likely will be treated the same way in courts.

Making Accommodations

The Supreme Court has said that a bona fide religion is one that has real, ultimate ideas on life and death with established rituals. Religion is more than just an ethical, social, or political belief. However, it does not have to be “popular” or mainstream, to be a recognized religion.

As a general rule, any kind of accommodation that someone asks for, must be accommodated—so long as the religion is a bona fide, real religion, and so long as the accommodation is reasonable.

As a general rule you should allow employees scheduling flexibility if needed to accommodate religious beliefs. You cannot alter an employees’ job because of their religious attire (for example, limiting an employees’ contact with customers for fear the general public will think negatively about that person). Additionally, any clothing or religious attire should be accommodated, and even facial hair policies can infringe on employees’ religious beliefs.

Hostile Work Environments

Remember that religious discrimination can also happen more subtly, like a hostile work environment claim.

Imagine a non-Christian employee, who works in an office with religious crosses and pictures that have religious meaning to the Christian religion. That employee may feel that he or she is in a place hostile to his or her religion (even if that isn’t actually true). The same is true for someone who may be Muslim, and who doesn’t want to be at an office/work holiday party with excessive alcohol.

Ask whether what you are doing is forcing an employee to abandon or go against his or her religious beliefs. If so, you may want to reconsider.

When it comes to holidays, your business should lean towards the more festive, cultural aspects of the holiday, avoiding the more serious religious connotations of holidays.

Policies and Procedures

Just like in sexual harassment, your office should have a written and public policy about how employees who feel they are being discriminated against by other employees, can make confidential complaints. Your office should have a written policy as to how these kinds of complaints are investigated and resolved.

Call our West Palm Beach business litigation lawyers at Pike & Lustig today for help with your employee related legal problems.




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