Religious Accommodations in the Workplace, According to the EEOC

There may come a time when employers are faced with an employee request for a religious accommodation. Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 (Title VII) prohibits employers with at least 15 employees, as well as employment agencies and unions, from discriminating in employment based on race, color, religion, sex, and national origin. It also prohibits retaliation against persons who complain of discrimination or participate in an EEO investigation.

According to the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC), with respect to religion, Title VII prohibits:

  • Treating applicants or employees differently based on their religious beliefs or practices – or lack thereof – in any aspect of employment, including recruitment, hiring, assignments, discipline, promotion, and benefits (disparate treatment);
  • Subjecting employees to harassment because of their religious beliefs or practices – or lack thereof – or because of the religious practices or beliefs of people with whom they associate (e.g., relatives, friends, etc.);
  • Denying a requested reasonable accommodation of an applicant’s or employee’s sincerely held religious beliefs or practices – or lack thereof – if an accommodation will not impose more than a de minimis (minimal impact upon the company’s business) cost or burden on business operations; and
  • Retaliating against an applicant or employee who has engaged in protected activity, including participation (e.g., filing an EEO charge or testifying as a witness in someone else’s EEO matter) or opposition to religious discrimination (e.g., complaining to human resources department about alleged religious discrimination).

What is “religion” under Title VII ?

The EEOC defines religion as:

  • Traditional organized religions, such as Christianity, Judaism, Islam, Hinduism, and Buddhism, as well as;
  • Religious beliefs that are new, uncommon, not part of a formal church or sect, only subscribed to by a small number of people, or;
  • That seem illogical or unreasonable to others.

What is a religious accommodation?

A religious accommodation is any adjustment to the work environment that will allow an employee or applicant to practice his or her religion. The need for religious accommodation may arise where an individual’s religious beliefs, observances, or practices conflict with a specific task or requirement of the position or an application process. Accommodation requests often relate to work schedules, dress and grooming, or religious expression in the workplace. If it would not pose an undue hardship, the employer must grant the accommodation.

What is an undue hardship?

An employer may justify a refusal to accommodate an individual’s religious beliefs or practices if the employer can demonstrate that the accommodation would cause an undue hardship. An accommodation may cause undue hardship if it is:

  • Costly;
  • Compromises workplace safety;
  • Decreases workplace efficiency;
  • Infringes on the rights of other employees, or;
  • Requires other employees to do more than their share of potentially hazardous or burdensome work; or;
  • If the request for an accommodation violates the terms of a collective bargaining agreement or job rights established through a seniority system.

Undue hardship based on cost requires that the employer show more than a de minimis cost to the company. The hardship upon the company must be genuine and cannot be merely speculative.

What should employers do?

  • Make sure to maintain a policy and procedure for handling accommodation requests
  • Determine reasonable accommodations
  • Notify employee or applicant
  • Implement accommodations
  • Review and revise, as appropriate

Need help? Call us today at (877) 356-6175 or complete the form below.

Click here to read the EEOC’s Question and Answer Guide to Religious Accommodations in the Workplace

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