- A company’s offer to reassign a truck driver to a less-desirable route fulfilled its duty to accommodate his religion, the 11th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals has ruled (Walker v. Indian River Transport Co., No. 17-10501 (11th Cir., July 27, 2018)).
- Bobby Walker a driver for Indian River Transport, started out driving long-haul routes while he waited for a local route to become available. When it did, he requested that he be allowed to take Sundays off to attend church services. The company said it couldn't accommodate his request on the local route, so it reassigned him to routes that allowed for a more flexible schedule. However, those paid less and Walker eventually quit. He sued, alleging discrimination and retaliation.
- A federal district court granted summary judgment for the employer and the 11th Circuit affirmed. The appeals court said the employer had offered Walker a reasonable accommodation because, even though it continued to occasionally offer him Sunday work, the new routes eliminated mandatory work on Sundays.
Federal law prohibits employment discrimination based on religion and also requires that employers accommodate employees' sincerely held religious beliefs. They do not, however, have to provide the accommodation that an employee prefers.
In another recent case, Christmon v. B&B Airparts, Inc., the 10th Circuit held that an employee had received a reasonable accommodation when his employer allowed him to skip weekend work altogether after he asked that his mandatory overtime be switched from Saturday to Sunday to accommodate his religion. Christmon sued, unhappy about the loss of income that resulted from the lack of overtime. The 10th Circuit, however, determined that the employer’s accommodation — allowing the employee to avoid the conflict with his religious beliefs, even if he lost the opportunity for income — was reasonable.
HR can work to ensure that all managers receive training on recognizing and responding to such requests. Employers can be liable for failing to provide an accommodation if they knew or should have known that an employee needed something, so it's crucial that managers know to listen for statements that don't seem like a formal request. Employees don't need to use any "magic words" or even know about accommodations to be eligible for one.