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
Illinois employers covered by the Illinois Human Rights Act and seeking to advise employees of their right to seek accommodations based on religion should consider including this model policy statement in their handbook.
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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.