UPDATE: February 6, 2020: In a statement provided to HR Dive, Walmart said, "We do not tolerate discrimination and we have a long-standing practice of accommodating our associates' religious beliefs and practices. We maintained all along that we had offered Mr. Hedican a reasonable accommodation and we appreciate the court affirming that. We are pleased with the ruling."
- An assistant manager's request to have Saturdays off in accord with his religious beliefs posed a Wisconsin Walmart undue hardship, a district court said (EEOC v. Walmart Stores East LP and Walmart, Inc. No. 18-cv-804 (W.D. Wis. Jan. 16, 2020)).
- When Edward Hedican, a Seventh Day Adventist, accepted a job offer as an assistant manager, he told Walmart he would need Saturdays off to observe the Sabbath. The HR manager concluded that the request posed an undue hardship for the store. The manager said the store would lack management coverage on Saturdays, which could lead to a loss in customer service and sales. The HR manager denied the request and rescinded the job offer. She also informed Hedican that there were non-salaried supervisory positions that did not require Saturday work for which he could apply.
- The trial court granted Walmart's motion for summary judgment, deciding that Walmart had shown that providing the accommodation Hedican requested would be an undue hardship. The court said Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, which protects workers against religious discrimination, doesn't require employers to accommodate an employee's religious practices in a way that spares the employee any cost. It also concluded the federal law does not require employers to accommodate the religious practices of an employee in exactly the same way the employee would like to be accommodated. It held, too, that "an offer to help an employee find another job that does not require Sabbath work is a reasonable accommodation, even if the position pays less or is less desirable."
Title VII prohibits employers from discriminating against workers based on religion and requires employers to reasonably accommodate an employee's sincerely held religious beliefs unless doing so would pose an undue hardship for the employer, the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) says in its guidance on religious discrimination.
"An accommodation may cause undue hardship 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," the EEOC says. Although "undue hardship" is generally regarded as a high standard for employers to meet, the trial court concluded Walmart was able to demonstrate it. The court noted that "the loss of production that results from not replacing a worker who is unavailable due to a religious conflict can amount to undue hardship."
The court also noted that "Title VII does not require employers to deny the shift preferences of some employees in order to favor the religious needs of others" and "an accommodation that requires other employees to assume a disproportionate workload is an undue hardship as a matter of law."
While employers don't have to grant the preferred accommodation, they are expected to engage in an interactive, good-faith process to determine worker accommodations. This makes compliance training, especially for managers, a good idea.