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. 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 can avoid liability for religious discrimination by engaging in the interactive process with employees and providing reasonable accommodations based on religion. 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.
Author: Beth P. Zoller, JD, Legal Editor
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.
In the midst of the flu pandemic sweeping the nation, a federal court in Ohio has provided some food for thought to employers that require their employees to get a flu shot. In Chenzira v. Cincinnati Children's Hospital Medical Center, 2012 U.S. Dist. Lexis 182139 (S.D. Ohio, 2012), an employee who was terminated for refusing to get a flu shot because the vaccine contained chicken egg product, which violated her religious and philosophical beliefs as a vegan, may proceed with her religious discrimination claim.
Recent federal cases demonstrate the importance of engaging in the interactive process when an employee requests a religious accommodation. Title VII and similar state and local laws not only prohibit religious discrimination in the workplace, but also require that employers make reasonable accommodations for an employee's sincerely held religious beliefs and practices if doing so would not create an undue hardship.
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.