- Three female Somali Muslim employees at an Amazon warehouse in Minnesota have filed charges with the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC), alleging multiple civil rights violations.
- The women claimed Amazon violated Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 by failing to accommodate their religious needs, failing to promote them and retaliating against them after they protested alleged bias. The workers said they were denied adequate space and time to practice their religion and were regularly assigned less favorable work than white workers were; they also said they were denied promotion and training opportunities. One of the employees said she stopped taking breaks to perform required ablutions before prayer and also stopped taking bathroom breaks to keep her packing rate up and avoid disciplinary write-ups.
- Following a December 2018 protest, the workers say they experienced a campaign of retaliatory harassment from Amazon that included more difficult assignments, increased surveillance and increased discipline.
Title VII applies to employers with 15 more more employees and bars employment discrimination on the basis of race, sex, national origin, color or religion. Employment lawyer Robin Shea previously told HR Dive that Title VII is one of the easiest employment laws for employers to comply with. But employers — even big employers like Amazon — continue to face accusations of violations.
As with other areas of employment law, training is key to establishing a compliant, inclusive workplace. But training alone is not enough; there needs to be a real focus on creating a culture of respect and inclusion, experts say, as subconscious biases contribute to unequal treatment.
When it comes to religion, it's important for employers to work with employees to find mutually acceptable accommodations. Employees are not necessarily entitled to their preferred accommodation, merely one that is reasonable given the circumstances. One court concluded that providing a driver with a less lucrative route so he could avoid Sunday work was reasonable; another okayed an exemption from mandatory overtime rather than rescheduling it.
EEOC recommends a case-by-case analysis of requested religious accommodations and also advises appropriate training for managers. Even if the search for a workable accommodation is ultimately unsuccessful, demonstrated good-faith efforts are important from both a compliance and morale perspective.