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Religious Accommodation and the Holidays

By Toni Ahl - Dec 7, 2020 9:24:57 AM - 3 MINS READ

With the holidays fast approaching, employers may begin to receive requests for time off due to religious holidays. Each request should be considered and not just dismissed. Supervisors should be made aware that these requests should be forwarded to the HR department for consideration if there is a question about whether they may be accommodated.

Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, as amended, (Title VII) requires employers to accommodate the closely held religious, moral or ethical beliefs of their employees. I think employers sometimes forget about the moral and ethical beliefs when considering accommodation, and just think about the religious beliefs. Title VII also covers those who are atheist or agnostic. Religions can be those mainstream religions that we may think about when the word religion is mentioned, or can be a religion about which the employer has no knowledge. 

In the past, many companies had meals catered for their employees. Before the meal, a prayer may have been offered. This practice may be problematic if there are atheists or agnostics in attendance. Although the person may not have participated in the prayer itself, the very fact of a prayer being offered and being observed as not participating might make the person uncomfortable and feel excluded. Religious dietary restrictions should be considered if meals are being provided by an employer. 

Accommodations should not be denied because the employer feels that by allowing one employee the accommodation that other employees may request a similar accommodation. For example, if one employee requests to be off on Sunday to attend religious services and the employer denies the request because other employees may also request to be off on Sunday and they need people there to operate the business, the reason for the denial may not be considered to be legitimate. Each request and the needs of the business must be examined and assessed individually.

There are many types of religious observances at the holidays, and employers may not be aware of all of them or what the observance entails. As an employer, be open to listening to the request of the employee and then make the determination if the request can be accommodated. Also, keep in mind that some religions do not observe the holidays at all and do not wish to participate in any way in any type of celebration of the holidays.

The standard under Title VII for religious accommodation is very different from the standard for reasonable accommodation under the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA). Under Title VII, the law requires accommodation unless there is more than a “de minimus” cost. The standard under the ADA deals with undue hardship. The term “de minimus” means too trivial or minor to merit consideration, especially in law. There is not a specific amount that is given for being “de minimus.” Each accommodation request should be considered based on its own merit.

Many times, with religious accommodation, there is no cost; for example, allowing two employees to swap shifts. Another example would be allowing someone a change to a regular uniform policy by allowing the addition religious garb or allowing a skirt to be worn rather than slacks.

I just want to raise your awareness about various religions as our world shrinks in size. You may not be aware of many of the religions that exist or what they require. I suggest that you be open to requests and try to work with the employee to achieve a satisfactory resolution for both the employee and employer.  Although not required by Title VII, the interactive process is a great way to accomplish a satisfactory solution.

Feel free to reach out to me at eeoadvantage@gmail.com or (502) 553-7648 if you have questions about religious accommodation or any of the statutes enforced by the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission.  And Happy Holidays to you all!

Toni Ahl

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