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Total Articles: 39

9 Key Tips for Religious Accommodation in the Workplace

Religious accommodation questions often present unique challenges for employers who are faced with determining whether they should bend their time off or dress code rules to accommodate an employee’s religious beliefs and practices. For example, a Muslim employee may request to pray during the work day, a Jewish employee may seek to leave early on Fridays for the Sabbath or a Sikh employee may want to wear a turban to work.

Accommodation for the Mark of the Beast

Most employers know of the requirement to adjust any aspect of the working environment which may conflict with an employee’s religious beliefs. At the federal level, under Title VII, an employer must make reasonable accommodation for the religious observances of its employees, short of incurring an undue hardship. But what are religious accommodations? What proof may an employer request in order to establish that the employee is being sincere? The 4th Circuit recently examined a religious accommodation scenario that ended in an award of nearly $600,000 in damages and other benefits to the employee.

"Mark Of The Beast" Workplace Concerns Lead To Half-Million Dollar Verdict

Here’s some advice you probably didn’t think you needed, employers: you should avoid, at all costs, giving or threatening to give your employees the biblical Mark of the Beast. And if they think you are doing so, you should accommodate them if possible. An employer in West Virginia ignored this advice and will now have to write a $550,000 check to a former employee after the 4th Circuit Court of Appeals affirmed a whopping jury verdict earlier this week (EEOC v. Consol Energy).

What Employers Need to Know about Trump’s Religious Liberty Executive Order

President Trump signed an executive order on religious liberty yesterday to commemorate the National Day of Prayer. Like many before it, the exact contents of this order were hotly anticipated, fueled by White House leaks and presidential tweets, with many speculating that the order would greatly affect employment and other civil rights laws.

Trump Signs Religious Liberty Executive Order

During a ceremony in the Rose Garden, President Trump signed a much-anticipated “Religious Liberty” executive order.

Carolina Company Sued by EEOC for Alleged Religious Discrimination

The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission announced that it filed a lawsuit last month against a South Carolina company that allegedly refused to accommodate a truck driver’s religious beliefs. The employee apparently subscribed to a Hebrew Pentecostal religious faith that forbade him from engaging in labor during the prescribed Sabbath (Saturday). The EEOC alleged that the trucking company engaged in religious discrimination against the driver after he was terminated for refusing to work a particular Saturday.

Mandatory Flu Shot Programs Without Religious Exemptions Targeted by EEOC

Employers that require their employees to get flu shots must provide exemptions for employees whose religious beliefs forbid vaccinations or risk a lawsuit by the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC).

“Onionhead” is a Religion Under Title VII: Court Finds in Favor of Employees in Reverse Religious Bias Case

A federal district court recently ruled that an employer-initiated program known as Onionhead was a religion for the purposes of Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964. In Equal Employment Opportunity Commission v. United Health Programs, No. 14-CV-3673 (September 30, 2016), the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of New York held that Onionhead (also sometimes known as Harnessing Happiness) “qualifies as a religion” under Title VII.

Company Practices "Onionhead" – Employees Cry Reverse Religious Discrimination

A New York federal court recently sided with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (“EEOC”) as to whether a company’s internal conflict-resolution program was religious in nature.1 Because the program—called “Onionhead,” or occasionally, "Harnessing Happiness"—was deemed religious, the company was held potentially liable under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 (“Title VII”) for seeking to impose its own religious beliefs on employees.

Court Tosses Flu Shot Lawsuit

In our last edition of the Healthcare Update, we reported that the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) had filed a June 2016 lawsuit against that Baystate Medical Center in Massachusetts, claiming that the employer did not reasonably accommodate the sincerely held religious beliefs of an employee who refused to take a flu shot.

EEOC: “Wanted: Younger Workers Who Want To File Religious Discrimination Claims”

The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC), the federal watchdog agency patrolling the nation for workplace law violations, recently announced its intention to target younger workers to see if they feel victimized by religious discrimination. To that end, the agency created a one-page information sheet released on July 22 intended to educate younger workers about their rights under federal law when it comes to religious discrimination, harassment, and accommodations. Because the gig economy uses a workforce that skews somewhat younger, it seems likely that you will need to understand your obligations with respect to this area of law or face legal consequences.

EEOC Issues Religious Discrimination Prevention Resource

The US Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) has announced the release of a one-page fact sheet designed to communicate religious discrimination protections to younger workers. In addition, the EEOC will implement changes in the collection of demographic data from individuals who file charges with the agency, which may yield more precise information regarding religious discrimination.

eLABORate: Religious Discrimination ... Or Infectious Insubordination?

The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (“EEOC”) has filed suit against a Massachusetts hospital, alleging it discriminated against an employee on the basis of religion when it fired her for not complying with a facemask requirement after she declined a flu shot for religious reasons. EEOC v. Baystate Med. Ctr., Inc. raises unique issues of what constitutes a reasonable accommodation to religious practices under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 (“Title VII”), as well as the scope of what is an undue hardship for employers, especially in the context of a health care provider.

From Paris to San Bernardino: World Events Keep Focus on Religious Discrimination and Accommodations

With its victory in the Supreme Court last year, the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) appears poised to continue focusing on ensuring appropriate religious accommodations and combating religious discrimination in the workplace.

Supreme Court Expands Religious Discrimination Liability

Most employers know that Title VII prohibits discrimination against applicants or employees based on religion. They also know that Title VII requires employers to provide reasonable, religion-based accommodations to employees who express such a need. But a recent decision of the U.S. Supreme Court clarifies that an employer can also become liable for religious discrimination – even when the employer had no knowledge of an applicant’s potential need for a religious accommodation – if the applicant’s religious practice was a “motivating factor” in the employer’s decision against hiring the applicant.

Ramadan in the Workplace: Keys to Understanding and Accommodation

This year Ramadan, the month-long religious holiday celebrated by Muslims worldwide, began on June 18 and ends on July 17. Because federal, state and local laws prohibit discrimination and harassment based on a job applicant’s or employee’s religious beliefs and require an employer to provide reasonable accommodations, US employers should make sure they understand the potential ramifications of Ramadan in the workplace and make any necessary accommodations by keeping these five tips in mind:

U.S. Supreme Court Issues Religious Discrimination Decision

The U.S. Supreme Court ruled yesterday that summary judgment was improperly granted in favor of Abercrombie & Fitch Stores, Inc. on a religious discrimination claim stemming from Abercrombie's refusal to hire a practicing Muslim who wore a headscarf during her job interview. The EEOC brought the case on the applicant's behalf, alleging that Abercrombie violated Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964. The case, EEOC v. Abercrombie & Fitch Stores, Inc., Case No. 14-86 (June 1, 2015), has been closely watched by observers because of its potential to resolve a circuit split over whether an applicant or employee must explicitly request an accommodation or whether it is enough that the employer has notice that an accommodation is needed.

Should Employers Guess Their Applicants' Religion? SCOTUS Expected to Face Accommodations Issues Head On

The Supreme Court of the United States is poised to decide a case that should clarify employers’ obligations to provide applicants with accommodations for their religious practices. Simply put, the question is whether applicants must notify companies of any religious beliefs that would prevent them from abiding by workplace rules or whether employers must provide notice of their company policies to assess whether a need for an accommodation exists. In Equal Employment Opportunity Commission v. Abercrombie & Fitch Stores, Inc.—a case brought by a woman who wore a head scarf to an interview for a retail job for which she ultimately was not hired—the Court is expected to decide which party should bear this burden of notice.

Resource Update: Religion, Holidays and Days off in the Global Workplace

Are companies legally required to allow employees to take time off for religious holidays, even if there's a backlog of work?

Religious Accommodations: May Be Required by Law, Unless the Request is Unlawful

Several weeks ago, the EEOC secured a jury verdict of $150,000 in compensatory damages against an employer for failure to accommodate an employee’s religious objection to a workplace rule. But last week, the Sixth Circuit held that an employer need not provide its employee a religious accommodation if the requested accommodation violates federal law. These cases serve as a reminder that while an employer has certain obligations under Title VII to reasonably accommodate their employees’ religious beliefs, those obligations are not unlimited.

Fifth Circuit Religious Discrimination Determination Requires Employers to Gauge Sincerity of an Employee’s Religious Beliefs

Most employers recognize that Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 (Title VII) prohibits religious discrimination in the workplace and requires private employers to reasonably accommodate an applicant’s or employee’s religious practices and beliefs, subject to limited exceptions. Private employers with 15 or more employees are covered under Title VII. Many state laws also prohibit religious discrimination by private employers, and typically cover employers with fewer than 15 employees.

What Is a Sincere Religious Belief? The Fifth Circuit Weighs In On a Religious Discrimination Claim

In a 2-to-1 decision written by Judge Edward Prado, the Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals recently chimed in on an employee’s claim that her employer failed to accommodate a religious observance, for which “she believed strongly that she ‘needed’ to be at church . . . as a religious matter.” The court in Davis v. Fort Bend County overturned summary judgment where the district court had found that the employee’s absence on a Sunday to attend a ground breaking ceremony for her church was not a religious practice. As the district court found and Fort Bend County argued before the Fifth Circuit:

5th Circuit Weighs In On Religious Discrmination

Yesterday's post about the difficulty that courts have in dealing with religious discrimination, see Not Off to a Good Start and Onionhead: the newest religion? could not have been a better segue way to today's decision from the 5th Circuit, Davis v. Fort Bend County, (5th Cir. 8.26.14).

Not Off to a Good Start and Onionhead: the newest religion?

Six weeks ago, on the 12th anniversary of this blog, I indicated that I would see if last year's lack of posting would continue and whether or not it was time to give this blog a formal ending. Based on the last six weeks, it is definitely on its death bed.

Avoiding Mistletoe Mishaps, Part VI: When Religion And Work Collide—Responding To Requests For Accommodations At Work

As 2013 comes to an end, we have been considering a number of workplace issues that employers might face at the end of the year and the beginning of the holiday season.

Workplace Profanity Can Support Religious Discrimination Claim

A United States District Court for the District of Oregon recently held that a Plaintiff may use anti-religious comments and workplace profanity as evidence in support of a religious-based hostile work environment claim.

One district court finds that "sincerely held belief" of vegan employee may support a religious discrimination claim.

A federal district court in Ohio has refused to dismiss a complaint for religious discrimination made by a hospital employee after the employee was fired for refusing to be vaccinated for the flu. The basis of the refusal to be vaccinated was the employee’s veganism. The Court denied the employer’s motion to dismiss, holding that the plaintiff’s beliefs were sincerely held and, therefore, merited protection under the law. Chenzira v. Cincinnati Children’s Medical Center, S.D. Ohio, No. 1:11-cv-00917 (12/27/12).

Veganism Protected As a Religion? Not So Fast

Writing from Austin, where almost every menu offers at least vegan alternatives, I hate to put a damper on what is surely going to be the quick take-away from a recent court decision refusing to dismiss the religious discrimination claim of a hospital employee fired for refusing to take a flu shot because as a Vegan the ingestion of a vaccine created from eggs would violate her ethical and religious beliefs. Chenzira v. Cincinnati Children's Hospital Medical Center (S.D. Ohio 12/27/12).

First Supreme Court Employment Decision of 2012

What the Court's "ministerial exception" case means for employers.

Supreme Court Rules: "Church Must Be Free To Choose Those Who Will Guide It On Its Way"

On January 11, 2012, the U.S. Supreme Court issued a rare unanimous decision for religious employers. The decision both clarifies that the ministerial exception is an absolute bar to employment discrimination suits brought on behalf of a minister based on employment decisions made by the employer, and illustrates that the ministerial exception may apply to a range of employees of religious institutions.

Work-Faith Conflicts And The EEOC

It's been nearly two years since the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) issued a compliance manual update on religious discrimination. Religious discrimination involves disparate treatment, harassment, retaliation or refusal to reasonably accommodate religious beliefs or practices. At the time of the release of Section 12 of the new Compliance Manual on "Religious Discrimination" on July 22, 2008, the EEOC announced that it "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." Since 2000, religion-based charges filed with the EEOC increased from 1,939 to 3,386 in 2009.

RELIGIOUS DISCRIMINATION ISSUES CAN ARISE IN UNEXPECTED WAYS (pdf).

In recent months, plans to build a mosque blocks away from Ground Zero in New York City have lead to a renewed focus on religious freedom in everyday life. In the workplace, Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 defines the rights of employees and responsibilities of employers, primarily by requiring employers to reasonably accommodate employees’ “sincerely held religious beliefs,” observances and practices unless doing so would impose an “undue burden” on the employer. Additionally, as in South Carolina and North Carolina, many states have laws and constitutional provisions that afford additional protections for employees.

Muslims Celebrating On 9/11? Things Are Not Always What They Seem.

Perception is often more important than reality, and perception can vary radically among people of different religions and national origins.

To support religious discrimination claim, employee must show that she met performance expectations.

A former editorial writer for the Indianapolis Star who claimed that she lost her job because of her “traditional” Christian beliefs regarding homosexuality was unable to support claims of religious discrimination under Title VII, because she could not show that she met the legitimate business expectations of her employer.

EEOC ISSUES NEW RELIGIOUS DISCRIMINATION GUIDELINES FOLLOWING INCREASE IN DISCRIMINATION CHARGES (pdf).

Last month marked the seventh anniversary of the terrorist attacks on 9/11. There have been numerous repercussions of that terrible day, including many related to the workplace. For example, charges of religious discrimination in the workplace have grown by 67 percent since 2000.

EEOC Issues New Guidance on Religious Discrimination.

In light of the ever-expanding number of religious discrimination complaints arising in workplaces across the country, the EEOC recently issued a new set of guidelines to assist employers in this area. The revised portion of its employment compliance manual provides an overview of religious discrimination law, and offers "best practices" for employers to avoid discrimination charges. Every employer should be familiar with this comprehensive publication, but don't worry if you don't have time to slog through 73 pages of material – we've done it for you.

Dealership Update: Religious Discrimination: Just How Different Is it?

Many employers assume – incorrectly – that they can avoid all discrimination claims by simply treating everyone exactly the same and making no exceptions. While that approach will keep you out of most discrimination problems, it can still result in claims of religious discrimination. Here's why.

That Old Time Religion.

While employers stay focused on profits and maintaining a competitive edge in today’s marketplace, religion has begun playing a major role in employee relations. Title VII recognizes the important role that religious freedom plays in our society and its protection goes beyond mere negative restrictions to impose an affirmative obligation to reasonably accommodate religious beliefs.

You Can’t Make Me Sell That!

Companies today are being faced with a surge of employees who are conscientious objectors to some part of the employer's business on the basis of their religion. Stories range from taxi drivers refusing to transport customers who are carrying liquor to cashiers refusing to service customers purchasing pork.
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