Recently in Religion Category

November 12, 2014

Can you fire an employee who posts Nazi propaganda on Facebook?

Maybe you've heard about it. I'm giving a little spiel today on social media in the workplace with a few friends at an event in Philadelphia. If I play my cards right, I'll do as little speaking as possible on the dais.

Which means I'll get my two cents in after the jump and discuss on a hockey coach who was recently fired for posting pictures of Nazi propaganda on Facebook.

* * *

Continue reading "Can you fire an employee who posts Nazi propaganda on Facebook?" »

October 3, 2014

The Supreme Court completes my religious discrimination superfecta

Have you noticed a theme here at the blog this week?

I mean, other than the crappy posts.

Well, that and the crotch grabbing.

It's been all about religious discrimination. Good ahead, scroll down the page, there they are.

And yesterday, the Supreme Court announced that it is going to decide EEOC v. Abercrombie & Fitch Stores, Inc., a case involving an employee who wore a headscarf (or "hijab") to work for religious reasons, but was told to remove because it conflicted with Abercrombie's clothing policy. The lower court granted summary judgment to the EEOC. The Tenth Circuit reversed and granted summary judgment for Abercrombie, concluding that the employee never informed Abercrombie that she needed a religious accommodation to wear the hijab at work.

Now, the Supreme Court will have to decide 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" only if the employer has actual knowledge that a religious accommodation was required and the employer's actual knowledge resulted from direct, explicit notice from the applicant or employee.

Prediction: Abercrombie wins. I can't see how a majority of the Court concludes that anything less than actual notice of a particular individual's sincerely-held beliefs would create a duty to accommodate them.

October 2, 2014

Can crosses on holiday party invitations create a hostile work environment?

Remember yesterday, when I was talking about religious accommodations, I said, "Treat all religions equally."

That same rule applies to  casting out the evil devil of religious discrimination generally. Church!

After the jump, from my bloggerdome pulpit, I'm preaching my religion: employment law. All ye harassers, there is still time to repent! I will bring workplace salvation.

*** dodges lightning strike ***

* * *

Continue reading "Can crosses on holiday party invitations create a hostile work environment?" »

October 1, 2014

A Monday Night Football lesson on workplace religious accommodations

After scoring a touchdown on Monday night, Kansas City Chiefs safety Husain Abdullah dropped to his knees and prayed.

Kinda like this.

As Kevin Draper at Deadspin.com reports (here), a tweet from Abdullah's brother further confirmed that the player's post-TD celebration was a Muslim prayer.

Except the referees responded with a 15-yard penalty to the Chiefs for excessive celebration, for which the NFL later later accepted blame.

Oops.

What can employers learn from the NFL's mistake? A few lessons on accommodating prayer in the workplace after the jump...

* * *

Continue reading "A Monday Night Football lesson on workplace religious accommodations" »

September 30, 2014

The religious bias case of the Jehovah's Witness officer who refused to use a gun

Ok, technically, he was a "parking services officer." But, he was working in a police department. And when you work in a police department as an officer, the odds are that you'll need some weapons training.

Well, cue the jump where we learn whether a police department has to accommodate the religious beliefs of a Jehovah's Witness who refuses weapons training....

* * *

Continue reading "The religious bias case of the Jehovah's Witness officer who refused to use a gun" »

August 5, 2014

Learn all about religious accommodations in the workplace today at 2:00 PM EDT

unocards.JPGWhy, just the other night, I playing my 5-year-old son in a friendly game of Uno.

Well, it was friendly-ish in a cutthroat sorta way. At least, that's what the look on his tear-stained face suggested to me when I mouthed "Uno," shimmied, and spiked my final card to win my fourth game in a row.

Now, some would say that I took it a bit too far when I collected his tears, and then painted them on my face to mock his crying. 

But those people are soft.

In Uno, I talk the talk and walk the walk.

The same could be said for employment-law webinars. And it's not that I view "Hair, Holidays and Hijabs: Religious Discrimination in the Workplace," a webinar that I am co-presenting for BNA today at 2:00 PM EDT, as a competition. 

But, I'm going to really need to raise my game today carry my weight with my co-presenter.

Oh you didn't know? I have the honor and privilege of co-presenting on religious discrimination with P. David Lopez, EEOC General Counsel.

Not to worry though; I have a few aces up my sleeve -- provided that I remember to wear sleeves, which has been a struggle recently.

But seriously, you could a lot worse than David and me for 90 minutes on a really hot workplace issue like religious discrimination and accommodations. There is still time to register (here).

And if you can't make it, and you want a copy of our PowerPoint, just email me and I'll send it to you after the webinar.

Provided that you can beat me in a game of Uno.

(Don't embarrass yourself, I'll send you the PowerPoint anyway...)

July 14, 2014

What LeBron's return teaches employers about accommodating the Mark of the Beast

I'll save the "Five Workplace Lessons From LeBron James's Return to Cleveland" post for the other bloggers.

Here's one -- one which I guarantee you don't find anywhere else:

If during his time in Miami, LeBron James became a Fundamentalist Christian, and, upon filling out his new-employee paperwork with the Cleveland Cavaliers, refused to provide a social security number because it would cause him to have the "Mark of the Beast," the Cavaliers would not have to provide him with a religious accommodation.

You see, folks, to maintain a claim for religious discrimination, an employee must show, among other things, that his bona fide religious belief conflicts with an employment requirement. Assuming that LeBron's religious belief is bona fide, according to this recent Ohio federal court decision it does not conflict with an employment requirement. Indeed, the IRS requires that employees provide a social security number. So, it's a government requirement, not an employer requirement.

In which case, the Cavs can just cut LeBron.

And speaking of beastmode, this may be a good time to alert you that ABA Journal has opened nominations for the 2014 Blawg 100 Amici, its list of the top 100 law blogs in the country. Last year, y'all came through big time!

If you'd like to nominate this blog again in 2014, you can do so here.

Image Credit: CaringMerryKouprey on gfycat.com

July 1, 2014

3 ways the #HobbyLobby decision affects your workplace

HobbyLobbyStowOhio.JPG

Mid-morning yesterday, the Internet broke shortly after the Supreme Court issued its 5-4 decision in HHS v. Hobby Lobby Stores, Inc..

Jeez, I'm still cleaning out my Twitter, LinkedIn and Facebook feeds.

In case your wifi, 4G, 3G, dial-up, TV, radio, and other electronics picked the wrong day to quit sniffing glue, the long and short of yesterday's Supreme Court decision is this: Smaller, closely-held (think: family-owned) companies don't have to provide Obamacare access to birth control if doing so would conflict with an employer's religious beliefs.

So, how does yesterday's decision affect your workplace? I promised you three ways, and here they are:

  1. The court's opinion creates an Obamacare exception for closely-held business. If your company isn't closely held, then there's nothing to see here.

  2. The Hobby Lobby decision does not allow employers (closely-held or otherwise) to discriminate against employees under the guise of a religious practice. In the dissent, Justice Ginsburg pondered, "Suppose an employer's sincerely held religious belief is offended by health coverage of vaccines, or paying the minimum wage or according women equal pay for substantially similar work. Does it rank as a less restrictive alternative to require the government to provide the money or benefit to which the employer has a religion-based objection?" Well, no. The majority recognized that "the Government has a compelling interest in providing an equal opportunity to participate in the work force without regard to [a protected class], and prohibitions on [discrimination] are precisely tailored to achieve that critical goal."

  3. The Court's opinion is a good reminder about religious accommodations in the workplace. Title VII requires covered employers to make reasonable accommodations for a worker's sincerely-held religious beliefs unless doing so would impose an undue hardship on business operations. The "sincerity" of an employee's stated religious belief is usually not in dispute. (More on that here). And, in these situations, an employer should not judge the employee's religious belief to determine whether it is plausible. Rather, the focus should usually be on whether the accommodation would impose an undue hardship -- because the burden there is rather low.


Image Credit: "HobbyLobbyStowOhio" by DangApricot - Own work. Licensed under CC BY-SA 3.0 via Wikimedia Commons
March 10, 2014

Check out the new EEOC guidance on workplace religious accommodations

Thumbnail image for EEOC.jpgLate last year, the United States Equal Employment Opportunity Commission scored a big victory when a federal judge found apparel company Abercrombie & Fitch liable for religious discrimination when it fired a Muslim employee for wearing her hijab (a religious headscarf) in the workplace, rather than accommodating her religious beliefs.

On the heels of this win, the EEOC has just issued new guidance about how federal employment discrimination law applies to religious dress and grooming practices, and what steps employers can take to meet their legal responsibilities in this area.

You can view the press release here, a fact sheet here, and a FAQ here.

In a nutshell, Title VII requires an employer, once on notice that a religious accommodation is needed for sincerely held religious beliefs or practices, to make an exception to dress and grooming requirements or preferences, unless it would pose an undue hardship.

Customer preference is not undue hardship, job segregation (e.g., reassigning the employee in the yarmulke to the storage room) is not a religious accommodation, and your personal knowledge of an employee's religion has no bearing on whether the employee's beliefs are sincerely held (they probably are).

But, the undue hardship is a low bar -- much lower than disability accommodation -- anything de minimis. Even a schedule change can be more than de minimis.

Religious accommodation in the workplace is fast becoming a hot issue for the EEOC and I commend all of you to fund my Kickstarter check out the new EEOC guidance.

February 20, 2014

Well, that's a messed up workplace religious accommodation request

halloweenface.jpgHere's a little HR Pro Tip from your old pal, Eric.

If, around Halloween time, an employee requests permission to hand out bags of candy containing "gospel tracts," which depict Muslims and Catholics and state that they should all go to hell, you just go ahead reject that religious-accommodation request.

(More on religious accommodations here)

Cuz even though that employee may sue and have her case make it one step below the United State Supreme Court, she will lose.

While this is definitely an extreme example, employers should be careful not to favor one religion over another. However, they are not required to permit proselytizing in the workplace, especially when the message includes bashing other religions.

January 6, 2014

EEOC thrashes Scientologist employer that allegedly made workers scream at ashtrays

tomcruise.jpg

I'll be the first to admit that I don't know much about Scientology.

Why, my Scientology acumen could fill a thimble. Basically, I know that Tom Cruise is a Scientologist and Katie Holmes was a Scientologist; but, not anymore. Anything else comes from my favorite gossip blog, The Superficial, which is barely, if at all, safe for work.

(Although, I can guarantee you that if you search that blog for the word "Scientology," the results will be anything but).

170,000 reasons not to force religion on your employees.

Yeah, so anyway, last week, I read with interest, this EEOC press release, in which the federal agency announced that it had settled with a Florida employer that had allegedly tried to force Scientology on its employees.

Here's what the EEOC specifically claimed was happening in the workplace:

The EEOC charged in its suit that Dynamic Medical Services, Inc. ("DMS") required Norma Rodriguez, Maykel Ruz, Rommy Sanchez, Yanileydis Capote and other employees to spend at least half their work days in courses that involved Scientology religious practices, such as screaming at ashtrays or staring at someone for eight hours without moving. The company also instructed employees to attend courses at the Church of Scientology. Additionally, the company required Sanchez to undergo an "audit" by connect­ing herself to an "E-meter," which Scientologists believe is a religious artifact, and required her to undergo "purification" treatment at the Church of Scientology.

Whoa!

You can find a copy of the EEOC's federal court complaint here.

The press release indicates that the employer will pay $170,000 as part of a consent decree. It will also require the employer to accommodate employees who complain about attending and/or participating in religious courses or other religious work-related activities for religious reasons; to notify EEOC if employees request a religious accommodation; to adopt an anti-discrimination policy that explains to employees their rights under Title VII with respect to religious discrimination; and to conduct training for DMS employees covering Title VII, and specifically focusing on religious discrimination.

So what can employers learn from this? I've got two takeaways.

  1. Proselytize at your own risk. As I've discussed here on the blog before, proselytizing, an effort to convert someone to a particular religion, is not prohibited per se in the workplace. This is because federal anti-discrimination law does not require that the workplace be sanitized of all religion (e.g., a Christmas tree, menorah, etc.).

    Where employers cross the line is by requiring participation in certain forms of religious expression (e.g., Scientology) without reasonably accommodating those who feel that participation would conflict with a sincerely-held religious belief. So, if my employer wants me to get my Scientology on by screaming at ashtrays, and doing so doesn't conflict with my own sincerely-held religious beliefs, then I'd better start screaming.

  2. Scrutinize particular religions at your own risk too. All it takes is a sincerely-held religious belief. Just because an employee believes that his religion should involve purification treatments and using an e-meter, doesn't mean that you as the employer have the right to second-guess it. Doing so, will inevitably lead to a religious-discrimination claim.

    Want to sanitize your workplace of religion altogether? Knock yourself out. But, don't make exceptions for particular religious groups (e.g., allowing Christmas trees and menorahs, but not e-meters). That's another recipe for a religious discrimination claim. Even so, if an employee requires a reasonable accommodation related to his religion, you may need to provide it, unless doing so will cause undue hardship (i.e., added cost to the employer or an imposition on co-workers).


No disrespect intended with today's music selection.
(and because there is no "She Blinded Me With Scientology")

October 24, 2013

Court rules that company need not allow mass unscheduled prayer breaks

coexist.jpgWe're talking religious accommodations here at the ole Handbook. 

Last week, it was the Mark of the Beast. Before that, we explored Ramadan bagel parties

Today, we're sticking with the Ramadan theme. Unfortunately, I don't know any Ramadan tunes to soundtrack this post. So, let's just go with Christian rock.

Now, back to Ramadan. In EEOC v. JBS USA, LLC, several Muslim employees at a meatpacking plant argued that their employer engaged in religious discrimination when it failed to allow them to take unscheduled prayer breaks. Specifically, Muslim representatives told JBS that the Muslim employees "have to pray within 10 minutes of sunset and at the most 15 minutes after sunset." JBS responded that it could not relieve 200 employees within a 10-minute window because of safety and quality concerns created by such an accommodation.

To establish religious discrimination for failure to accommodate, an employee must demonstrate that he or she (1) has a bona fide religious belief that conflicts with an employment requirement, (2) informed the employer of this belief, and (3) was disciplined for failing to comply with the conflicting requirement. The burden then shifts to the employer to show that the requested accommodation would have caused it undue hardship. This can be shown in one of two ways: added cost to the employer or an imposition on co-workers.

So, mass unscheduled prayer breaks? I'm thinking this may cause an undue hardship. Amirite, United States District Court for the District of Nebraska?

The evidence demonstrates that this accommodation would have imposed more than a de minimis burden on JBS, as well as on co-workers...The evidence demonstrated that extra employee breaks could have an adverse effect on food safety. Safety concerns are highly relevant in determining whether a proposed accommodation would produce an undue hardship on the employer's business....The evidence demonstrates that unscheduled breaks in the manner proposed by the Muslim employees also would have imposed more than a de minimis burden on non-Muslim co-workers. Such unscheduled breaks would have required a supervisor, lead worker, trainer, or coworker to fill in for the employee leaving the line. The substitute, therefore, would not be performing his or her own job while covering for the absent employee.

Yes, while the threshold for establishing something more than a de minimis burden on the company or co-workers is rather low, just be careful about denying accommodations to one religion, while allowing them to another. That's an easy way to find yourself on not only the receiving end, but also the losing end of a religious discrimination lawsuit

October 15, 2013

EEOC sues over failure to accommodate the Mark of the Beast

Play us in Keith Richards...

Last month, the EEOC announced here that it had sued two companies, claiming that they violated federal law by failing to accommodate an employee's religious beliefs:

According to the EEOC's lawsuit, Beverly R. Butcher, Jr. had worked as a general inside laborer at the companies' mine in Mannington, W.V., for over 35 years when the mining companies required employees to use a newly installed biometric hand scanner to track employee time and attendance. Butcher repeatedly told mining officials that submitting to a biometric hand scanner violated his sincerely held religious beliefs as an Evangelical Christian. He also wrote the mining superintendent and human resources manager a letter explaining the relationship between hand-scanning technology and the Mark of the Beast and antichrist discussed in the Book of Revelation of the New Testament and requesting an exemption from the hand scanning based on his religious beliefs.

In the complaint filed in federal court in West Virginia, the EEOC claims that the two employers refused to consider other ways to track Butcher's time and attendance, "such as allowing him to submit manual time records as he had done previously or reporting to his supervisor, even though the mining company had made similar exceptions to the hand scanning for two employees with missing fingers."

This case serves as a reminder for employers that even though an employee's religious beliefs may seem strange, as long as those beliefs are sincerely held, the law requires that employers accommodate them absent undue hardship.

(h/t Donna Ballman @employeeatty)

September 25, 2013

Employee asks court to stop company from making her work Saturdays

Sounds like someone's taken a page out of the Lionel Hutz playbook.

Patrice Williams is a Seventh-Day Adventist. Seventh-Day Adventists believe that the Sabbath runs from sundown Friday to sundown Saturday. Because of her sincerely-held religious beliefs, Ms. Williams requested that her employer not require her to work during the Sabbath, to which the employer allowed her to do so through a combination of swapping shifts with co-workers, using vacations days, using sick days, scheduling doctors appointments, and other means.

But, that wasn't good enough for Ms. Williams. 

So, she sued, asking that a federal court require her employer not to schedule her for work on the Sabbath, ever. She even sought two preliminary injunctions, vis-a-vis two motions creatively styled "Motion for a Temporary "Real" Sabbath Accommodation" and "Motion to Cease and Desist Denial of Regularly Scheduled Off Days and Vacation Days."

Last week, the court, in this opinion, denied both motions, finding it likely that Ms. Williams would lose her lawsuit altogether:

Plaintiff conceded at the evidentiary hearing and in her submissions to the Court that there is currently a shortage of crane operators qualified to operate her crane within her department. Plaintiff proposes that Defendant could solve this problem and never schedule her to work on the Sabbath by removing employees who are qualified to operate her crane from other departments. The issue with this solution is that Plaintiff is asking Defendant to remove individuals with more seniority from their preferred positions in order to accommodate her religious practices. If a reasonable accommodation requires a deviation from an established seniority system, courts have generally considered the accommodation to constitute undue hardship.

Unlike failure-to-accommodate claims presented under the Americans with Disabilities Act, where the employer's burden of proving undue hardship is rather high, in the context of religious accommodations, it's low. The slightest hardship, anything more than a small cost, will suffice.

June 25, 2013

Supreme Court delivers two -- count 'em TWO -- wins for employers

STT.pngThis week, I am on vacation. The Supreme Court didn't get my memo. Fine. But, I'm not putting down my beer to write this post. So, you get a one-handed rundown of the two employment-law decisions the court issued yesterday. 

Pardon my typos after the jump...

* * *

Continue reading "Supreme Court delivers two -- count 'em TWO -- wins for employers" »