- The operator of a Tennessee senior and assisted living community has agreed to pay $92,586 to settle a U.S. Equal and Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) religious bias lawsuit.
- The employer asked two employees who are members of the Seventh-day Adventist Church to work on Saturdays. They declined because their Sabbath runs from sundown Friday to sundown Saturday. The employees' offer to work on Sundays was refused, and they resigned at the employer's request. Such alleged conduct violates Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, the EEOC said.
- As part of the two-year consent decree settling the lawsuit, the employer also agreed to train its employees, including HR and management, on Title VII's requirements; report complaints of religious discrimination and requests for religious accommodations to the EEOC; and allow the commission to monitor the facility's compliance with the decree.
Delner Franklin-Thomas, EEOC district director, said in a statement: "when an employee tells his employer his religious belief conflicts with a work policy, the employer has an obligation under Title VII to have a conversation with the employee to determine whether it may reasonably accommodate the employee unless it causes an undue hardship."
Examples of common religious accommodations include:
- A Catholic employee who needs a schedule change to attend church services on Good Friday.
- An atheist employee who needs to be excused from the religious invocation offered at the beginning of staff meetings.
- a Christian pharmacy employee who needs to be excused from filling birth control prescriptions;
- A Jehovah's Witness who seeks to change job tasks at a factory so that he will not have to produce war weapons.
- An adherent to Native American spiritual beliefs who needs unpaid leave to attend a ritual ceremony.
- A Muslim employee who needs a break schedule that will permit daily prayers at prescribed times.
- An employee who needs accommodation of a religious belief that prohibits working on a Sabbath.
Employees are not necessarily entitled to the accommodation they prefer. For example, a truck driver who asked for Sundays off was not entitled to his accommodation of choice, the 11th Circuit ruled. The employer's offer of different routes that paid less was a reasonable religious accommodation to the worker's request for Sundays off because the new routes eliminated the conflict between the driver's employment requirements and his religious practices, the court said.
Similarly, the 10th Circuit ruled that a worker was given a reasonable accommodation, although not the one he wanted, when he was allowed to skip weekend work after he asked that his mandatory overtime be switched from Saturday to Sunday to accommodate his religious beliefs. The employee took his claim to court because he was unhappy about the loss of income that resulted from the lack of overtime.
While employers don't have to grant the preferred accommodation, employers are expected to engage in an interactive, good-faith process to determine worker accommodations. Employers should make sure that managers are trained to handle requests and also listen for clues that may suggest a need for accommodation even if there is no "official" request.