Overview: Under Title VII, as well as various state and local laws, employers are required to engage in the interactive process and reasonably accommodate an individual's religious practices or beliefs unless doing so would cause more than a minimal burden on the employer. Reasonable accommodations include flexible scheduling, swapping shifts and allowing accommodations in the dress code policy so that an employee may wear religious clothing such as a head covering.
When engaging in the interactive process with an employee or applicant seeking a religious accommodation, it is permissible for the employer to seek additional information regarding the religious practice or requirement. In order to obtain a religious accommodation, an individual must demonstrate that the practice is religious in nature and his or her beliefs are sincerely held.
Trends: Religious accommodation is a hot topic. In 2014, the EEOC issued updated guidance for employers regarding providing employees with religious accommodations when it comes to dress codes, grooming and appearance. The guidance covers clothing as well as hairstyles and facial hair. Therefore, it is a best practice for employers to carefully consider all relevant and reasonable accommodations whether it be an accommodation to a dress code policy, a schedule change or other accommodation. There has also been a focus on religious accommodation at the state level. For example, California recently adopted a law which explicitly requires employers to make accommodations to employees based on religion, unless doing so would cause the employer undue hardship which is defined as a significant difficulty or expense (a higher burden than the federal standard under Title VII). Employers should be stay current with the requirements in their state and aim to provide religious accommodations if feasible. Further, employers should recognize that recent federal cases suggest that an employer may be able to avoid liability for religious discrimination by engaging in the interactive process with employees and providing reasonable accommodations based on religion.
Author: Beth P. Zoller, JD, Legal Editor
The US Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) has announced the release of a one-page fact sheet designed to communicate religious discrimination protections to younger workers. In addition, the EEOC will implement changes in the collection of demographic data from individuals who file charges with the agency.
California has amended its Fair Employment and Housing Act (FEHA) discrimination and harassment regulations, effective April 1, 2016.
The EEOC recently released guidance on discrimination against Muslim individuals and individuals with HIV.
To help supervisors manage religion in the workplace, XpertHR has added a Religion in the Workplace Supervisor Briefing.
This briefing for supervisors examines the law and best practices for supervisors when it comes to managing religious issues in the workplace such as avoiding religious discrimination, harassment and retaliation, reasonable accommodation of religious beliefs and practices and types of religious accommodations.
The new and updated statements reflect recent legal developments in the National Handbook and in several states, including Wisconsin, California and Rhode Island.
Employers covered by Title VII and seeking to advise employees of their right to seek accommodations based on religion should consider including this model policy statement in their handbook.
Effective January 1, 2016, California's Fair Employment and Housing Act will prohibit retaliation against a person for requesting a reasonable accommodation for his or her disability or religious beliefs.
In EEOC v. Abercrombie & Fitch Stores, Inc., the US Supreme Court held that an applicant seeking to establish a religious discrimination claim based on a failure to accommodate is not required to show that the potential employer had knowledge of the individual's need for an accommodation.
HR guidance on types of reasonable accommodations based on religion and how to engage in the interactive process when an employee or applicant requests an accommodation based on religion.