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Employment Law Blog

Category: Religious Discrimination

Thursday, July 24, 2008

EEOC Issues New Compliance Manual On Religious Discrimination

The U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) issued a new Compliance Manual Section regarding workplace discrimination on the basis of religion on July 22, 2008.

The new section defines “religion,” religious discrimination and harassment under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964. It identifies discriminatory practices in the recruiting and hiring process, the terms and conditions of employment, and with respect to discipline and termination. The EEOC also describes its policies regarding the employer’s requirement to accommodate religious beliefs and practices.

The section explains how to apply the law to the workplace with numerous factual illustrations. For example, in explaining that accommodation does not necessarily mean acceding to the employee’s preference, the section states: “Tina, a newly hired part-time store cashier whose sincerely held religious belief is that she should refrain from work on Sunday as part of her Sabbath observance, asked her supervisor never to schedule her to work on Sundays.  Tina specifically asked to be scheduled to work Saturdays instead.  In response, her employer offered to allow her to work on Thursday, which she found inconvenient because she takes a college class on that day.  Even if Tina preferred a different schedule, the employer is not required to grant Tina’s preferred accommodation.”

To further assist employers, the EEOC also issued a companion question-and-answer fact sheet and best practices booklet.

The question-and-answer sheet includes answers to common questions, such as: “Does an employer have to grant every request for accommodation of a religious belief or practice?” “What if co-workers complain about an employee being granted an accommodation?” “What are common methods of religious accommodation in the workplace?”

The best practices booklet includes a number of compliance suggestions. Some of the suggestions are generic and obvious. For example: “Employers can reduce the risk of discriminatory employment decisions by establishing written objective criteria for evaluating candidates for hire or promotion and applying those criteria consistently to all candidates.” Other suggestions are more practical and helpful. For example: “Employers should consider adopting flexible leave and scheduling policies and procedures that will often allow employees to meet their religious and other personal needs. Such policies can reduce individual requests for exceptions. For example, some employers have policies allowing alternative work schedules and/or a certain number of ‘floating’ holidays for each employee. While such policies may not cover every eventuality and some individual accommodations may still be needed, the number of such individual accommodations may be substantially reduced.”

According to the EEOC’s press release, “the EEOC issued this section in response to an increase in charges of religious discrimination, increased religious diversity in the United States, and requests for guidance from stakeholders and agency personnel investigating and litigating claims of religious discrimination.”

The EEOC reports that religious discrimination charge filings with the EEOC nationwide have risen substantially over the past 15 years, doubling from 1,388 in Fiscal Year 1992 to a record level of 2,880 in FY 2007.

Submitted by:
Christopher W. Olmsted, Esq.
Barker Olmsted & Barnier, APLC
San Diego Employment Law Attorneys

Friday, May 30, 2008

Tortilla Maker Accused Of Religious Intolerance Against Muslim Workers

As reported in the Minneapolis Star Tribune on May 28th here, a group of Muslim workers allege they were fired by a Mission Foods tortilla factory for refusing to wear uniforms that they say were immodest by Islamic standards.

“Six Somali women claim they were ordered by a manager to wear pants and shirts to work instead of their traditional Islamic clothing of loose-fitting skirts and scarves.” The women have filed a religious discrimination complaint with the federal Equal Employment Opportunity Commission.

A Mission Foods spokesperson stated that the women were not fired, but rather suspended, because they refused to comply with a company uniform policy.

Presumably the claim is based on Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of l964. The law prohibits employers from discriminating against individuals because of their religion in hiring, firing, and other terms and conditions of employment. Employers must reasonably accommodate employees’ sincerely held religious practices unless doing so would impose an undue hardship on the employer.

The case will likely focus on whether (1) the clothing in question related to a religious practice or belief; (2) whether the employer could have reasonably accommodated traditional Islamic clothing in the factory; or whether (3) accommodating the clothing would have imposed an undue hardship on the employer. Perhaps the company had health, safety, or other reasons for the uniform policy. In the context of industrial machinery, loose clothing may be dangerous. In the context of food processing, it may not be sanitary. The news report did not provide the employer’s justification. 

Noting an increase in discrimination after September 11, 2001, the EEOC has published guidelines for the religious accommodation of Muslims and ethnic groups from Middle Eastern and Far Eastern countries here and here.

The guidelines include the following FAQ:

Q: “I am a Sikh man and the turban that I wear is a religiously-mandated article of clothing. My supervisor tells me that my turban makes my coworkers ‘uncomfortable,’ and has asked me to remove it. What should I do?””

“If a turban is religiously-mandated, you should ask your employer for a religious accommodation to wear it at work. Your employer has a legal obligation to grant your request if it does not impose a burden, or an ‘undue hardship,’ under Title VII. Claiming that your coworkers might be ‘upset’ or ‘uncomfortable’ when they see your turban is not an undue hardship.”

The EEOC reports that in Fiscal Year 2007, the agency received 2,880 charges of religious discrimination. EEOC resolved 2,525 religious discrimination charges and recovered $6.4 million in monetary benefits for charging parties and other aggrieved individuals (not including monetary benefits obtained through litigation).

Submitted By:
Christopher W. Olmsted
Barker Olmsted & Barnier, APLC
San Diego Employment Law Attorneys

Monday, August 21, 2006

Employee complaint or employee whining?

Check out this question that was posted in an “<a >Ask
Amy”</a> column that appeared in a variety of newspapers.

Basically, a professor at a public university - and atheist - asks whether the university must maintain a completely sterile environment with respect to religious views.  Setting aside any First Amendment issues, or those related to Title VII, common sense dictates that an employer (without a religious affiliation) establish rules that prohibit an employee from being harassed based on religious views.  Ignoring the discrimination issues, it just makes sense from a productivity standpoint.

What gets me about the questioner is the actual nature of her complaints:

Soon after I was hired, I received a desk decor gift from the department dean that included quotes from the Bible on small Post-its. I also constantly receive religious e-mails that are from the department secretary and my department chair.

Of all the horrible things that can happen to you at work, this seems to be about as minor an annoyance as you’re going to face during your work career.  I’m all for political correctness, but it has to come at a price.  In this case, that price is getting out of your chair and talking to the people who have done something that offends you.

Interestingly, the person ends her question by saying “I am not going to complain. I am afraid that it would affect my relationships at work.”  Doesn’t that all depend on how you raise the issue?  Why does it have to be a complaint and not a conversation?

I know that Human Resource Directors face these types of questions all of the time.  If I were in that position, I would tell the employee to discuss the matter privately with the people involved (this is also the advice that Amy gives).  Of course, I’m not a Human Resource Director!  For those HR Directors out there, how would you handle this complaint?  You can post a comment by clicking on the link below.

 

Posted by Patrick Della Valle on 08/21 at 07:00 AM
Religious Discrimination