In PA, NJ, and DE, when does religious expression take a backseat to workplace safety?

September 8, 2010
By Eric B. Meyer on September 8, 2010 9:15 AM |

Your employee wears a head-covering. The employee's head-covering is part of her religious practice.

You're not one to interfere with an employee's religious expressions, but you're concerned that this head-covering creates a safety risk for both the employee and others. And maybe you run a prison and the head-covering could be used to smuggle in contraband.

After jump, I have some practice tips for you.

Oh, wait, you do run a prison? Breathe easy, my friend. The Third Circuit Court of Appeals says that you are in the clear. Last month, the court held that a prison management company does not violate Title VII of the 1964 Civil Rights Act by refusing to allow employees to wear religious head scarves to work.

Apart from the potential risk of smuggling in contraband, the Court noted evidence from the employer that a prison inmate could use the scarves to attached and choke an employee.

Oh wait, you don't run a prison?!? Well, la-di-da!

Here are three points for Pennsylvania, New Jersey and Delaware employers to consider when it comes to religious accommodation at work, according to the EEOC:

1. Employers must accommodate an employee's sincerely held religious belief in engaging in religious expression in the workplace.

2. However, an employer never has to accommodate expression of a religious belief in the workplace where doing so would pose an undue hardship to the employer.

3. Similarly, if the accommodation would result in harassment to a co-worker, the employer does not have to make the accommodation.

And, of course, the Third Circuit reminds us that if the religious accommodation could get someone killed, the employer can take a pass on that one.