Reasonable Religious Accommodations - June 2020

Employers are not allowed to use religion as a factor when making a hiring decision, with some exceptions such as hiring church pastors (where the employee’s religion is central to his or her job performance). They are also not allowed to discriminate against an employee due to the person’s religion. In fact, businesses have a duty to provide employees with reasonable religious accommodations to the extent that they do not cause an undue hardship for the business.

The requirement to accommodate religious practices is somewhat different from other anti-discrimination obligations. After all, it is impossible to change your age, and difficult to change your gender, so those are inherent characteristics of a person. Religion is in a series of closely held beliefs which sometimes require particular types of behavior such as prayer or mediation. Different religions observe different holidays, and have different requirements of practitioners, from clothing to hair styles and more.

Sincere Religious Belief

In most cases, employees’ religious beliefs should not conflict with general business operations. However, occasionally there are situations when a belief comes into conflict with an employment rule or job requirement. In these cases, it is incumbent on the employer to find a way to accommodate the belief as long as it does not cause the business an undue hardship.

Examples of accommodations might include changing work schedules to give certain employees different days off, changing company dress codes to allow for the wearing of religious items if appropriate, allowing employees to have their breaks at the appropriate times for prayer, exceptions to grooming requirements, providing private spaces for employees to practice their beliefs, and providing excused absences for certain religious holidays.

In many cases, there are creative solutions that employers and employees can institute together to help accommodate certain religious beliefs. The key to success is working together and keeping an open mind to the various options and suggestions presented.

Undue Hardship

There are times where religious practices cannot be accommodated due to creating an undue hardship on the employer. Exactly what this means can vary greatly from company to company. For example, some businesses may be fine with employees who proselytizing at work, while others may find that it creates conflict with other team members or their customers.

Therefore, businesses may deny religious accommodations due to increased cost beyond administrative costs. Again, it can be tricky. For example, if an employee cannot work a certain day and the business would have to pay overtime to have the shift covered, then that may not be an undue hardship. But having to hire another employee to cover the shift, or regularly pay overtime, could start to become increased cost and undue hardship.

This issue can get even more complicated in the workplace when employees use common phrases such as “God bless you” or “have a blessed day” when communicating with other workers. While an employee (employee 1) may be prevented from expressing a sincere belief, and may therefore feel that he or she is being discriminated against, another employee (employee 2) may not want to be subjected to employee 1’s expressions and can feel harassed if employee 1 is not prevented from doing so. Further, the company may not want to give the impression that it, as a whole, has specific beliefs or condones specific beliefs, even if it is fine with the employee’s expressions.

However, employers are also not allowed to restrict religious displays more heavily than it would restrict other forms of expression. So, if a workplace does not have a dress code, a business cannot restrict the religious dress of an employee.

If you’re uncertain, or think you’re facing religious discrimination, reach out to the experienced employment attorneys at Phillips & Associates. Our team takes pride in representing employees and going toe-to-toe with other large firms. You won’t be out gunned by the big firm your old employer hires to defend itself. For a free consultation, call the experienced New York discrimination and wrongful termination attorneys at Phillips & Associates today at (866) 229-9441.

At Phillips & Associates - We Level the Playing Field

Employees were, and for the most part still are, at a big disadvantage in the workplace. There is a dramatic power imbalance between employees and the companies for which they work. This power balance can intensify after experiencing sexual harassment or discrimination. The company/employer often hires a large law firm to represent it, while employees may have just lost their jobs, have very little money, and no one to help them understand their rights. At Phillips & Associates, we have the experience, staffing, and financial backing to keep the playing field level. People need to take a close look at the lawyer or law firm they want to hire and determine if that lawyer or firm has the funds, experience, and the resources to properly litigate their case.

Phillips & Associates is one of the largest plaintiffs’ only employment law firms in New York. The firm handles cases involving sexual harassment and discrimination in the workplace including pregnancy, race, disability, religion, gender, nationality, criminal convictions, sexual orientation and other protected traits. Phillips & Associates also handles other areas of harassment at work such as retaliation and wrongful termination. Most recently Phillips & Associates was selected as one of the "10 Best Employment & Labor Law Firms" in New York" by the American Institute of Legal Counsel.

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