Must I Always Accommodate an Employee’s Religious Practices?
By Kevin M. Mosher • Apr 10, 2014
We appear to be going through a period in the U.S. where religious accommodation issues in the workplace are occurring with increased frequency. To answer the question: no, you do not always need to accommodate an employee’s religious beliefs and practices in the workplace; however, employers are required to provide accommodations unless the accommodation would pose an undue hardship. It is the latter requirement that creates ambiguity and difficulties for many employers. But, like mental or physical disabilities which impact the employee’s ability to perform the job, an employee’s religious beliefs and practices must be similarly accommodated up to the point that it creates an undue hardship on the business.
As with disabilities, where employers often feel the pull at playing doctor by questioning an employee’s mental or physical limitations, there may be a pull for employers to question the religious beliefs of an employee seeking an accommodation on these grounds. Generally it is not advisable for employers to play spiritual decision-maker any more than it is for them to play doctor. Mainly because the definition of “religion” for purposes of the federal requirement that employers accommodate an employee’s religious beliefs is very broad. Encompassing more than just the organized religions of Christianity, Islam, Judaism, Hinduism and Buddhism, “religion” for purposes of federal employment laws extends to include an employee’s sincerely held religious beliefs of non-organized or new religions- no matter the size of their membership. This definition of religion does not include social, political, and economic or an employee’s personal preferences, but it is still an expansive definition of beliefs, and it would be quite risky for employers to refuse an accommodation because they discount the employee’s sincerity and basis for asserting the belief system as a religion.
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