From Your Friends At The EEOC (Once Again): Do Not Forget To Accommodate Religious Beliefs!

I partially titled my post the other day “most religious accommodations are not unduly costly.”  I prefaced the post by saying that “one thing is certain: the EEOC has decidedly not abandoned its efforts to pursue claims of employment discrimination based upon religion.”

As if to put an exclamation point on this, the EEOC just announced another new suit, filed against a North Carolina company for refusing to provide a religious accommodation for and then firing an employee because of his religion.

Hands, Woman, Keep, Ipad, Dialogue

The employer in this one seems really to have ignored the comment “most religious accommodations are not unduly costly,” at least according to what I read in the EEOC’s announcement.

The EEOC claims that a long-tenured employee converted and became a Seventh-day Adventist, whose religious faith “requires him to refrain from working for hire on Saturdays, specifically from sunset on Friday to sunset on Saturday, in observance of the Sabbath.”

Although his regular schedule did not include working on Saturday, somehow soon after the employee converted and asked that he be excused from Saturday work because of his religious beliefs, the employer scheduled him to work on a Saturday.  (I must say that this part of the EEOC announcement confuses me: why did he ask to be excused from Saturday work if he did not work on Saturdays?  And why did the employer suddenly schedule him for Saturday?).

Anyway, when he said that he couldn’t work that Saturday, he was fired “for that reason.” (Does that mean he was told by the employer that this was the reason he was being fired, or is simply what the EEOC’s claims? Can’t tell).

Anyway, again, the point is that there is no evidence (from the EEOC press release, which is all that we have) that the employer engaged in the required interactive process with the employee to determine if there was a possible, reasonable accommodation, or attempted to accommodate his religious beliefs.

Question:  Was it necessary to fire this employee?  Was it really “unduly costly” or burdensome to accommodate his religious faith by, for example, getting someone else to work that Saturday – especially since he doesn’t seem to have been scheduled to work on prior Saturdays?   My guess is that it wasn’t.

So why the firing — did the employer really not know that this could/would end up in court?

Group, Team, Balloons, Question Mark

Takeaway: For the sake of convenience (and sheer laziness on my part), and since it is apt, I will reprint a quote from the EEOC attorney in my prior post: Many times when there is a conflict between an employee’s religious beliefs and a work rule, there are easy modifications to company policy permitting an employee to continue to work without violating his religious beliefs.”

And I will repeat, for emphasis, my coda from my last post: “Let’s add to that the requirement that an employer must engage the employee in that famous ‘interactive process’ to determine if there exists an accommodation … that is not unduly burdensome.

Postscript:   Once again, I recommend a short, (very) concise summary of Title VII’s prohibition against religious discrimination in employment found in Brad Reid’s Huff Post Business “The Blog,” in a three-page piece titled “A Legal Overview of Religious Discrimination in Employment.”


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Richard Cohen

Richard B. Cohen is a partner in the New York City office of FisherBroyles, LLP, a national law firm. Richard Cohen has litigated and arbitrated complex corporate, commercial and employment disputes for more than 35 years, and is a trusted advisor to business owners and in-house counsel both in the United States and internationally. His clients have included Fortune 100 companies, domestic and foreign commercial and investment banks, Pacific-rim corporations and real estate development companies, as well as start-up businesses throughout the United States. Email Richard at [email protected]