Federal anti-discrimination laws require employers to offer certain accommodations to employees– such as employees with disabilities. This accommodation requirement also extends to an employee’s sincerely held religious beliefs.
It may not be clear, however, exactly which types of requested accommodations for religious beliefs and practices an employer is obliged to acquiesce to, and which ones an employer can refuse without running the risk of a discrimination lawsuit.
What accommodations does the law require?
An employer who has an employee seeking a reasonable accommodation must engage in an interactive process to determine what accommodations would be reasonable for that employee. Examples of reasonable accommodations may be allowing employees to take time during the workday for prayers and allowing the use of a space in the office for this practice, or slightly adjusting your office’s dress code to allow for religious garb.
However, the law does not require an employer to grant accommodations that will cause undue hardship upon the business.
What constitutes undue hardship?
Undue hardship is a purposely vague term because an accommodation that would cause undue hardship for one employer may look very different for another employer. Essentially, an accommodation is unreasonable if it would require an employer to spend an inordinate amount of money, disrupt business operations, greatly inconvenience other employees and things of that nature.
Even if an employer is unable to grant a requested accommodation, it is a good idea to seek alternate ways of facilitating the employee’s religious practice. For example, if you cannot grant an employee extended leave for religious reasons, you may be able to allow other employees to volunteer to trade shifts with that employee.
If an employer fails to grant a reasonable accommodation that would not create undue hardship for the company, then it is possible the employee may have grounds for a religious discrimination lawsuit. These lawsuits can be costly, which is why it is extremely important to be familiar and comply with federal and state anti-discrimination laws.
Running a company is extremely complex and involves coordinating many moving parts – not the least of which is insulating your company from lawsuits. Granting employees’ reasonable religious accommodation requests is a great way to protect your business from potential claims of discrimination.
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