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Total Articles: 17

’Tis the Season to Be Mindful of Religious Accommodation Obligations

So it begins—the annual holiday marathon. But which holidays come to mind? Thanksgiving, Christmas, Hanukkah, Kwanza, Festivus? The answer may differ depending on a host of factors, such as an individual’s family traditions, cultural upbringing, or religious beliefs. As we prepare holiday to-do and shopping lists, employers may want to keep in mind their legal obligations for recognizing, addressing, and accommodating employees’ religious needs. Below is a list of five considerations to keep top of mind this season and year-round to stay off the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission’s (EEOC) naughty list and limit your company’s exposure to unwanted gifts in the form of religious discrimination complaints.

Religious Accommodations: When Biometric Scanners and the Mark of the Beast Collide

Increasingly, employers are turning to biometric scanners – usually a fingerprint or hand scanner – to track employees’ working time. This method for clocking in and out is generally more efficient and accurate than traditional methods, such as using a punch clock.

Hospital May Fire Employee Who Refused Influenza Vaccination, Federal Court Finds

A Boston hospital reasonably accommodated an employee’s religious objections to its influenza vaccination program by offering alternatives, but exempting the employee from the vaccination requirement would impose an undue hardship on the hospital because of the risk of infection to patients, a federal court in Massachusetts has concluded, granting the hospital’s motion for summary judgment in an employee’s religious discrimination suit. Leontine K. Robinson v. Children’s Hospital Boston, C.A. No. 14-10263-DJC (D. Mass. Apr. 5, 2016).

Claims to Accommodate Flying Spaghetti Monster-ism Hit the Wall in Nebraska Court

On April 12, 2016, a district court in Nebraska rejected the religious accommodation claims advanced by a member of the Church of the Flying Spaghetti Monster.1 In denying the religious accommodation claims, the court was forced to walk a narrow line between precedents that bar courts from questioning the centrality of a belief to an individual’s faith, and cases that allow courts to assess the religious nature of a plaintiff’s beliefs. Because the plaintiff is an inmate and not an employee, this case does not involve reasonable accommodations under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 (“Title VII”). But the court’s evaluation of what makes a belief system a “religion” offers insight into how other courts may address this complex and sensitive issue. The decision also provides interesting reading.

Do You Have To Accommodate An Employee Who Worships The Flying Spaghetti Monster?

Employers are generally aware of their duty to accommodate an employee’s religious beliefs. Whether that means rearranging work schedules, permitting modifications to dress codes, permitting prayer breaks, or any number of other alterations, you know that the law requires you to be flexible when it comes to religion. But what if your employee claims he is a “Pastafarian” who worships the Flying Spaghetti Monster? A recent case from Nebraska might shed some light on your religious accommodation obligations.

Religious Accommodation in the Healthcare Industry: What to Do When an Employee’s Beliefs Clash With Job Duties

Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 prohibits employers from discriminating against applicants and employees based on their religion, and requires employers to provide a reasonable accommodation of employees’ sincerely held religious beliefs. State laws provide employees and applicants with similar protections of their religious beliefs.

Religious Objectors: Employer’s Duty to Make Religious Accommodations

Kentucky County Clerk Kim Davis was recently jailed due to her refusal to issue marriage licenses to same sex couples. In other news, a flight attendant refused to serve alcohol due to her religious beliefs. The public reaction to both situations was intense and the debate well-publicized. These events also highlight a new wave of confusion regarding the requirements facing employers with respect to religious accommodations. The answer for employers can differ widely depending upon the industry, jurisdiction, legislation and the specific interpretation of the laws at issue. Some states have enacted so-called religious freedom statutes and thus religious objectors have significant protections. Read on for tips to employers.

Yule Time Tips, Part II: Knowing the Difference Between Religious Assumptions and Religious Accommodations

Picture this scenario. You are a busy manager of a retail organization. You assume that a sales employee is deeply religious because she wears religious symbols around her neck, talks about her pastor and church services frequently with coworkers, and says “Have a blessed day” to customers after she completes their purchases. She is a very good worker and well-liked by her colleagues. Although the employee has never asked for any scheduling preferences, when preparing the shift schedule for the holidays and on weekends, you avoid scheduling her for Sunday shifts or the day before (or after) religious holidays. Often, the days the employee is scheduled to be off from work are high-traffic days with many customers in the store. All sales employees work on commissions.

Secret to Reasonable Accommodations for Religion: Be Reasonable

If there is a secret to avoiding or, if necessary, winning lawsuits involving employee requests for religious accommodations, it is this: be reasonable. Two recent federal appeals court rulings highlight this seemingly obvious but sometimes elusive point.

The EEOC's Focus On Religious Accommodations

Religious accommodation claims are on the EEOC’s radar screen. This means that offering religious accommodations to employees and applicants must be on your radar screen as well.

Hospital’s Motion to Dismiss Religious Discrimination Claim Denied When Vegan Employee Refuses Mandatory Flu Shot

Many health care providers mandate certain types of shots or inoculations for their employees to reduce the risk of the spread of serious illnesses such as the flu. Hospitals and long-term care providers have increasingly taken a hard line when employees have refused to get vaccinated because some of their licensing standards require certain vaccinations. For other health care providers, it is viewed as a best practice to reduce the spread of illness and disease among the infirm and elderly. However, as some recent cases illustrate, employers need to exercise caution in taking an adverse employment action when an employee refuses to get vaccinated. For example, if an employee cannot have a flu shot or other inoculation due to a disability, this will likely preclude an employer from taking an adverse employment action against the employee.

Barring Employees From Answering Questions About Religion May Violate Title VII

In Weathers v. FedEx Corporate Services, a federal district court ruled that a former FedEx manager could proceed to trial on his claim that FedEx failed to accommodate his religious beliefs by prohibiting him from answering questions about his religion in the workplace.

Court Rejects Terminated Worker's Religious Discrimination Suit.

A federal appellate court recently affirmed the dismissal of a lawsuit brought by the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) on behalf of an employee who claimed that his employer discriminated against him because of his religion in violation of Title VII of the Civil Rights Act. According to the Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals, the employer satisfied its obligation to reasonably accommodate the worker's religious beliefs.

Accommodating the Faithful.

A recent case from the Eleventh Circuit reminds us that navigating the minefield of religious accommodation issues can be difficult but manageable. Cynthia Morrissette-Brown is a Seventh-Day Adventist who claimed that her employer did not reasonably accommodate her "deep religious convictions" which prevented her from working Friday or Saturday shifts. The employer ultimately prevailed by showing that it had a neutral rotating shift system and that it provided Ms. Morrissette-Brown the opportunity to swap shifts with her co-workers. Morrissette-Brown v. Mobile Infirmary Medical Center.

Holiday Tips to Avoid Religious Discrimination in the Workplace (pdf).

The end of the year and the accompanying holidays often bring requests by employees for time off for the religious observances and requests to display religious symbols at work.

Accommodating Religious Beliefs In Healthcare Settings.

In recent years, much attention to religious discrimination in the workplace has centered around Islamic religious practices. Not surprisingly, the EEOC reported seeing a spike in discrimination claims by Muslims after 9/11. In June, a federal jury in Arizona awarded a Muslim woman $288,000 after she was fired four months after the 9/11 attacks for wearing a head scarf during Ramadan.

[Hospitality Labor Letter] Finding God and Skipping Work: Reasonable Accommodation of Religious Employees

For the most part, you've been delighted with the work of your hostess. She charms the customers at the door, handles problems with the wait staff smoothly and professionally, and best of all she's dependable as clockwork. Till now. She's found a new religion, you're not sure which one, but claims she can no longer work from sundown Friday until sundown Saturday, making her unavailable for one of your busiest periods. Can you insist that she work that time period? Can you discipline her if she refuses? What about the fact that when she hired in, she said she would be available for work seven days a week, if necessary?
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