EEOC Offers New Guidance on Religious Accommodations

religion in the workplace, lawyer, attorney, business law, EEOCThe United States Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) is the federal agency charged with protecting the rights of employees to be free from unlawful workplace discrimination. In order to prevent such unlawful discrimination before it happens in the first place, the EEOC issues guidance to employers and business owners on how they can ensure they are in compliance with the laws.

In light of a rising number of cases involving allegations of religious discrimination, the EEOC recently issued new advice on what employers should know regarding religious accommodations in the workplace. The following are some highlights of the new guidance for employers.

What “religions” are protected under the law?

Employees are protected for beliefs in organized religions, such as Islam, Christianity, Judaism, Islam, Buddhism, and Hinduism. However, employees are also protected if they believe in smaller, informal, or uncommon religious groups. Religion does not include merely political, social, or economic activities or preferences.

When does an employer have to accommodate an employee’s religion?

If an employee asks for an accommodation based on sincerely held religious beliefs and the accommodation would not cause undue hardship for the employer, the accommodation request should be honored to prevent religious discrimination.

What constitutes an undue hardship?

An undue hardship must be more than merely a minimal burden on an employer. Some examples of undue hardship may include:

  • Putting the health or safety of other workers in jeopardy;
  • More than minimal financial cost to the employer;
  • Creating a deficiency in necessary workforce or staffing;
  • Disrupting the usual seniority system.

These are only a few examples of undue hardships, and each case should be fairly evaluated on a case by case basis. Many employers claim undue hardship and then find themselves facing legal action because they should have accommodated the employee’s request.

What are some examples of common religious accommodations?

The following are only a few examples of religious accommodations that employees might request from their employers:

  • Exceptions to dress code policies to be allowed to wear a hijab, yarmulke, or other head covering, or for a woman with certain beliefs to not be required to wear pants or skirts above the knee;
  • Exceptions to grooming policies to allow beards or long hair;
  • Schedule changes to attend church or other services for religious holidays;
  • Specially timed breaks to accommodate prayer times;
  • Not being required to work on the Sabbath;
  • Christian employees at pharmacy requesting to not fill birth control prescriptions;
  • Atheist employee requests to not participate in any activities of a religious nature at work.

Again, these are only a few examples of possible religious accommodations.

If you are an employer and have any questions regarding religious accommodations or discrimination laws, contact the Naperville employment attorneys at the Gierach Law Firm for assistance today.