The Employer's Legal Resource: Holiday Accommodations 101
With the holidays quickly approaching, how are you preparing managers and supervisors to respond to potential requests for religious accommodation? The cost of inaction could be significant, as one employer recently learned the hard way.
On October 13, the EEOC settled a religious discrimination action against a company that fired an employee who refused to work on a religious holiday. As part of the employee's sincerely held religious beliefs, she abstained from work on four holy days. After being hired in September, she made a request on about October 15 for time off for a religious holy day on October 21. She made a second request for time off on about October 20. The employer terminated her when she did not report for work on October 21.
Title VII obligates employers to grant accommodations for the sincerely held religious beliefs of employees and applicants if it will not pose an undue hardship. According to the EEOC, "employers have an obligation to balance employees' needs and rights to practice their religion with the conduct of their business. Where there is a minimal impact on the business, those religious needs must be accommodated." When it comes to time off for religious holy days, the EEOC and courts generally agree that limited amounts of time off pose nothing more than a minimal burden that should be accommodated.
Besides paying $55,000 in damages, the EEOC required the employer to adopt an antidiscrimination policy that addressed religious accommodations. The EEOC also required the employer to "conduct annual training on Title VII and its prohibition against religious discrimination and retaliation in the workplace." Most employers these days have a disability accommodation policy, but few have a good religious accommodation policy to guide managers. Fewer still conduct "annual training" for managers and supervisors regarding best practices for avoiding discrimination and retaliation. With claims of discrimination and retaliation at historic highs, ensure your holidays are bright by preparing your managers to respond to potential accommodation requests through quality training.
By Christopher S. Thrutchley, firstname.lastname@example.org