- Quest Diagnostics violated federal law when it revoked a phlebotomist’s religious accommodation that had been in place for 10 years, the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) alleged in a lawsuit filed Sept. 24 (Equal Employment Opportunity Commission v. Quest Diagnostics, No. 3:20-cv-02939 (N.D. Tex. Sept. 24, 2020)).
- The employee was a Seventh-day Adventist whose religious beliefs prevented her from working from sundown on Friday to sundown on Saturday, according to the agency’s complaint. Quest initially approved her accommodation request but after 10 years, her supervisor and HR department said it could no longer accommodate her schedule, saying it posed an undue hardship, EEOC alleged. She began calling out those days and was eventually fired, it said.
- The commission’s suit alleged that the revocation violated Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964. It sought back pay, compensatory and punitive damages and injunctive relief. "This phlebotomist’s reasonable accommodation request was granted for 10 years with no apparent problems," said Suzanne Anderson, an acting regional attorney for the commission, in a statement. "We do not believe Quest Diagnostics can show that continuing this situation would have suddenly created an undue hardship on its business."
Title VII prohibits discrimination based on religion and also requires that employers "reasonably accommodate an employee's religious beliefs or practices, unless doing so would cause more than a minimal burden on the operations of the employer's business," according to EEOC’s website.
Common religious accommodations include schedule changes, job reassignments and modifications to workplace policies and practices, the agency said.
Claims based on scheduling requests like the one made in this most recent suit have had mixed results. While some courts have found such adjustments reasonable, others have ruled in favor of employers. For example, the 8th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in 2019 held that a hospital did not retaliate against a nurse by rescinding a conditional offer of employment from an employee who could not work required shifts. Later that year, the 11th Circuit similarly held that a nuclear power plant did not violate the law when it decided that a scheduling accommodation would have required other technicians to "bear an additional workload of an already demanding job," and would cause the employer to incur additional "efficiency, administrative and safety costs."
An accommodation may cause undue hardship, according to EEOC, if it is "costly, compromises workplace safety, decreases workplace efficiency, infringes on the rights of other employees, or requires other employees to do more than their share of potentially hazardous or burdensome work."
Employment experts recommend that HR professionals train managers to identify, respond to and escalate accommodation requests. Additionally, employers are generally expected to engage in an interactive process of finding a reasonable accommodation, as employees are notably not entitled to a preferred accommodation, only an effective one.