Accommodations for Religious Practices in the Workplace
Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 makes discrimination based on certain characteristics in employment decisions illegal, including an employee’s or job applicant’s religious practices. Thus, employers may not choose whether or not to hire an applicant based on his or her religion, nor may they make other employment decisions, such as raises and promotions, based solely on an employee’s religious practices.
Examples of Reasonable Accommodations
Further, Title VII requires employers to make reasonable accommodations for the sincerely-held religious practices of its employees. A reasonable accommodation is any change the employer can make that would allow the employee to participate in the religious practice or activity. For example, an employee may be scheduled to work on the Sabbath. The employer could offer to change the employee’s work schedule and allow the employee to make up the time at a later date or the employer could allow the employee to ask if any other employees would be willing to trade days.
Other examples of reasonable accommodations may include:
- Lateral transfers
- Modifying certain policies, such as dress codes and grooming requirements
- Allowing prayer breaks
- Meeting employee dietary needs
- Allowing leave for employees to observe mourning periods
- Allowing leave for certain religious holidays
In order for an employer to be required to provide a reasonable accommodation, the employee must be able to demonstrate that the religious belief is sincerely held. This is a fact-sensitive inquiry and the employer will need to rely on the credibility of the employee to determine whether the religious belief is sincere.
However, employers are not required to provide a reasonable accommodation if it would create an undue hardship for the employer. For example, if the only accommodation available would infringe on other employee rights or create workplace safety issues, the employer may not have to provide it. Also, if the accommodation would be expensive for the employer to provide, it may be viewed as creating an undue hardship for the business. Courts tend to define reasonable accommodations broadly, making most efforts to accommodate religious practices by employers acceptable.
Employers also have a duty to take affirmative steps to prevent religious discrimination in the workplace by co-workers, managers, and others under the employer’s supervision. To accomplish this, employers should have an anti-discrimination policy in place that is distributed to all employees. There also should be an established complaint and investigation procedure for those that feel they have been discriminated against, or for those who want to report witnessing discriminatory practices.
Your Legal Options
For more information on an employer’s duty to prevent discrimination in the workplace, providing reasonable accommodations or other employment law issues, you may wish to contact an experienced San Francisco employment law attorney. In addition to federal legal requirements, employers may have duties under state and local law as well.