The U.S. Supreme Court’s decision this week that an employer may not make an applicant’s religious practice a factor in employment decisions, even if the employer does not have actual knowledge that the practice was religious in nature, gives employers plenty to think about in terms of their hiring and business practices. Employers are now faced with a new set of questions on how to ensure they do not run afoul of this decision.
Articles Discussing Religious Discrimination Under Title VII Of The Civil Rights Act Of 1964.
The U.S. Supreme Court’s decision in Equal Employment Opportunity Commission v. Abercrombie & Fitch Stores, Inc.1 resulted in an expected outcome but provided an unexpectedly small amount of practical guidance for employers.
Are companies legally required to allow employees to take time off for religious holidays, even if there’s a backlog of work?
The U.S. Supreme Court announced today that it will consider whether an employer can be liable under Title VII for refusing to hire an applicant or discharging an employee based on a “religious observance and practice” if the individual did not directly and explicitly request an accommodation and the employer did not actually know the individual needed an accommodation. In the case now before the Supreme Court, EEOC v. Abercrombie & Fitch, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Tenth Circuit held that an employer will not be liable for failing to accommodate an applicant’s religious garb/grooming practice unless the applicant personally and explicitly tells the employer the practice is religious and seeks an accommodation.
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.
The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) has released two new technical assistance documents governing religious dress and grooming and Title VII compliance. The first document, Religious Garb and Grooming in the Workplace: Rights and Responsibilities, discusses the interplay between employment discrimination law and religious dress and grooming practices, and outlines steps employers can take to avoid Title VII violations. The second document is a fact sheet that distils the information in the first document to a one-page guide.
In 1996 Bruce Anderson, the “Vegan Bus Driver,” gained renown when he was fired from an Orange County, California transit authority for refusing to distribute hamburger coupons as part of a promotional campaign. Anderson filed a charge of religious discrimination with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, which concluded that the authority violated Title VII by failing to accommodate moral and ethical beliefs that Anderson held with the strength of traditional religious views.
The Seventh Circuit Court of Appeal’s decision in Adeyeye v. Heartland Sweeteners, Inc.,1 reminds employers that a very broad definition of “religion” applies in Title VII religious discrimination cases. Given this broad definition, employers must be sufficiently alert to perceive, or at least to inquire about, the possible religious nature of employees’ accommodation requests – even when those requests do not contain the word religion. The Adeyeye decision also cautions employers to make careful, case-by-case determinations as to whether granting a religious accommodation would impose an undue hardship. The decision also makes it clear that an employer will not be reasonably accommodating an employee if all the employer offers is the opportunity to resign, fulfill a religious obligation, and then reapply if there happens to be an open position available.
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.