Employers Must Accommodate Time Off For Religious Observances

Once again the “takeaway” comes first today – in the form of a quote from an EEOC official:

“Unfortunately, employers refusing time off for religious observances has become an increasingly common issue affecting the workforce. We hope that suits like this will help educate employers on their responsibilities to respect workers’ religious needs.”

What prompted this quote?

The EEOC just sued a Georgia automotive parts manufacturer and supplier for alleged religious discrimination for firing an employee who, because of her religious beliefs, refused to work mandatory overtime hours on designated Saturdays.  Initially she was excused from sundown Friday through sundown Saturday, until a new supervisor refused to accommodate her, and she was fired.

I have noted before that religious discrimination was formerly a backwater of employment discrimination law, but has shot to the forefront in recent years.  Indeed, as we have seen in this blog “employers refusing time off for religious observances has become an increasingly common issue affecting the workforce.”

Just last month I reported on a South Carolina company which had hired a Hebrew Pentecostal truck driver who told them that he could not, for religious reasons, work on the Sabbath, but it eventually fired him for refusing to do so.  The EEOC has sued the company.

And last year a North Carolina company which hired a Seventh-day Adventist 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.”

He refused and was fired.  The company settled the EEOC lawsuit for $42,500.

Additional Takeaway:

Unless it creates an undue burden, an employee’s religious practices and beliefs must be accommodated by an employer.   And an employer must engage the employee in that famous “interactive process” to determine if there exists an accommodation (or “alternative accommodation,” in this new case) that is not unduly burdensome.

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.

 

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Richard Cohen

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]