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
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.
The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) has released two new publications instructing employers with regard to employee religious garb and grooming in the workplace: a lengthy Question and Answer Guide as well as a Fact Sheet on religious discrimination and accommodation. The EEOC notes that this guidance comes after a marked increase in the number of religious discrimination lawsuits.
The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) has reached a settlement in two religious discrimination lawsuits over retailer Abercrombie & Fitch's "Look Policy," a dress code that prohibited employees from wearing hijabs or religious headscarves. As part of the settlement, Abercrombie will pay $71,000 plus attorney fees and revise its dress code policy.
A recent decision from a federal district court in California provides important lessons for employers when it comes to religious accommodations. Essentially, it requires the employer to present concrete evidence of undue hardship should it refuse to grant a request for a religious accommodation.
A recent 7th Circuit case serves as a reminder to employers considering requests for leave accommodations based on religion that they should proceed cautiously and engage in the interactive process, evaluating each request on a case-by-case basis and asking for more information where needed. Employers should also be aware that religious beliefs and practices are broadly defined under Title VII (and similar state and local law) and, as a result, a range of activities and circumstances may fall under its purview.
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Recent case law developments highlight the importance of preventing discrimination against workers who are Muslim or of Middle Eastern background.
In the midst of the flu pandemic, many health care employers are requiring employees to receive flu vaccinations. However, a number of workers have protested, claiming that they are entitled to an accommodation based on disability, religion or pregnancy. What are an employer's obligations to accommodate workers and what groups of workers are they required to accommodate? The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) has provided some useful guidance regarding these issues.
On January 28, 2013, the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) released fiscal year 2012 statistics on employment discrimination charges filed with the agency. Retaliation (37,836) was the most frequently filed claim, followed by race discrimination (33,512) and sex discrimination (30,356), which includes sexual harassment and pregnancy discrimination. Retaliation charges remain a top concern for employers and have since 2010, accounting for 38.1% of all charges in 2012.
While it is generally lawful for an employer to develop and implement dress codes and uniform policies, the employer must be mindful of employees' right to practice their religion and wear clothing that comports with their religious beliefs and practices, or else it may face a religious discrimination claim. In Equal Employment Opportunity Commission v. Fries Restaurant Management, LLC d/b/a Burger King, Fries Restaurant Management (Fries) agreed to pay $25,000 to a teen employee who was asked to leave work because she wore a skirt instead of the required uniform of black pants.
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.