Religious Discrimination and Requirement to Accommodate

March 1, 2011, 9:27 AM

An employer's duty to reasonably accommodate its employees is not limited to situations involving employees with disabilities under the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA). Indeed, Title VII prohibits religions discrimination and requires covered employers to reasonably accommodate employees' sincerely held religious beliefs, unless doing so would impose an undue hardship on the employer.

The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission recently obtained a settlement on behalf of an employee who claimed that she was fired for refusing to work on Saturdays, her Sabbath. The former employee belongs to a Christian denomination called the Children of Yisrael, which prohibits its members from working from sundown Friday until sundown Saturday. In the settlement, among other things, the employer agreed to pay the terminated employee $110,000 in back pay and compensatory damages. EEOC v. Measurement Inc., M.D.N.C., No. 1:10-cv-00623.

This case serves as an excellent reminder that employers must be mindful of their obligation to reasonably accommodate employees' sincerely held religious beliefs, so long it does not pose an undue hardship. Accommodations may take many forms, including schedule changes, uniform modifications, and designated prayer time. In all cases, it is imperative that employers carefully evaluate requests and thoughtfully investigate potential accommodations. --David J. Sullivan