Accommodate Religious Beliefs: Or Pay $42,500 To Settle

Once again the takeaway comes first today:   Unless it creates an undue burden, an employee’s religious practices and beliefs must be accommodated by an employer.   And seeking such an accommodation through an interactive process with the employee is a must.

Moreover, and this is important: most religious accommodations are not unduly costly!  Which is why I am always a little stunned that employers fail to accommodate a religious belief when it is so easy to do.

The latest case seems to illustrate this.

A North Carolina company will pay $42,500 in settlement of an EEOC suit which charged that an employer discriminated against an employee because of his religious beliefs.

According to the EEOC, the employee, who is a Seventh-day Adventist, is a truck driver whose religious beliefs require that he not work on the Sabbath.  “The company’s facilities were usually closed on Saturdays and employees only worked Saturdays on limited occasions. … but the company asked [him to work on a particular] Saturday.”

Board, Religion, War, Different, Islam

When he said that his religious beliefs require that he not work on the Sabbath,  “the company failed to accommodate him and then discharged him for that reason.”

Group of Diverse People's Hands Holding Word Respect

On July 14th I commented that the majority of religious discrimination cases which I have seen “fall into two categories: those whose religious faith requires them to refrain from working on certain days, such as the Sabbath, and those whose religiously-required dress or grooming is not in compliance with a corporate ‘appearance’ policy.”

The conflict between work schedules and religious beliefs seems to be a big issue: take a look at an EEOC case which claimed that a bookkeeper was told that he had to work Saturdays, but being a Hebrew Pentecostal, who could not work from sunset Friday to sunset Saturday, he asked instead to be permitted the accommodation of working Sundays or late on week nights other than Fridays.

He was fired.

The EEOC Is Trying To Provide Appropriate Education for Employers

As part of its outreach and education, the EEOC has announced the publication and release of a one-page fact sheet “designed to help young workers better understand their rights and responsibilities” with respect to  religious discrimination. “The fact sheet is available at EEOC’s [email protected] website, which presents information for teens and other young workers about employment discrimination.”

For employers and everyone else involved in the workplace, the EEOC has noted that it has many resources:

“EEOC has developed information to educate employers, employees, and the public about religious discrimination, including Questions and Answers: Religious Discrimination in the Workplace and Best Practices for Eradicating Religious Discrimination in the Workplace.  Last December, EEOC released docu­ments for employees and employers that focused on discrimination against people who are or are perceived to be Muslim or Middle Eastern, and an accompanying background summary.”

One last postscript takeaway:

Who ever said that the EEOC was not serious about religious discrimination?  Employers:  why not download the EEOC’s material and save yourselves some money.


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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]