Recently in Religion Category

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...

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June 6, 2013

Not for Teacher: Court denies request to miss Tuesdays for Sabbath

cross.jpgBad Van Halen pun aside, let's play some Skynyrd. Even Waldo agrees.

So, there was this woman in Louisiana who took a teaching position at an elementary school. You know the kind; one that operates on weekdays. And, around her start date, she asked the administration for Tuesdays off to pray and observe her Sabbath. And the administration was all like, no.

So, a month later, the teacher filed a Charge of Discrimination with the EEOC, claiming religious discrimination for failure to accommodate.

Raise your hand if you think the teacher wins this lawsuit. 

Now, those of you with your hands up, ball that hand into a fist and punch yourself in the face. And, keep punching yourself, as I remind you that an employer does not need to accommodate an employee's religious beliefs if doing so would create undue hardship for the employer. In this context, undue hardship is anything "more than a de minimis cost" to the employer's business. For this reason, an Louisiana federal court in Slocum v. Devezin dismissed the teacher's religious discrimination claims because full-time teacher, last I checked, is a full-time position.

For more on addressing religious accommodation requests, check out this post.

May 1, 2013

Third Circuit says VIPs cannot sue for Title VII discrimination

Robert Mariotti was the vice-president and secretary of the company his father founded. Not only was he a corporate officer, but Mariotti also served as a member of the board of directors, and was a shareholder who could only be fired for cause.

In 1995, Mariotti had a spiritual awakening, which he claims resulted in a resulted in "a systematic pattern of antagonism" toward him in the form of "negative, hostile and/or humiliating statements" about him and his religious affiliation. Mariotti claimed that this behavior ramped up for over a decade and, ultimately, resulted in his termination. Thereafter, he sued his former employer for religious discrimination. The company moved to dismiss the claim on the basis that a shareholder-director-officer is not an "employee" under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and, thus, has no standing to assert a claim for religious discrimination.

What happened you say? Well, even if you read the lede, click through for full analysis...

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January 28, 2013

OMG! Must we grant our employee's religious-accommodation request?

cross.jpgAn employer must accommodate the sincerely-held religious beliefs of its employees unless the employer demonstrates that doing so would cause undue hardship for the business.

Undue hardship?!? What the heck is that? And how can you make sure that your managers are prepared to address -- let alone spot -- these issues when they arise.

Whoa, whoa, whoa. Calm down. I've got your back, after the jump...

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January 4, 2013

Religious accommodation required for an employee's veganism? Maybe.

Be Like Popeye: Eat Canned Spinach!?!
"Well, blow me down. Wimpy inspires a UK fast food chain,
and all I get is this crappy can. Why I oughta...
"


In anticipation of the current flu season, you decided to mandate that all employees get immunized. The problem is that one of your employees, a vegan, who won't ingest any animal or animal by-products -- especially not the microwaveable scrapple-wrapped tripe pops I keep in the lunchroom freezer -- refuses to get a flu shot because it's against her religious and philosophical beliefs.

What's her religion, you ask? Why veganism, of course.

WTH?!? Surely, you have no obligation to accommodate this "religion." In fact, you suddenly have the urge to brush her teeth with my frozen pops.

*** Ducks cauliflower ***

Well, guess what, carnivore? If you fire the employee for not getting the shot, you may have a religious-discrimination claim on your hands. 

So says an Ohio federal court in this recent decision. Indeed, an employer must accommodate an employee's sincerely-held religious belief, unless doing so would pose an undue hardship to the employer. When considering whether veganism qualifies, the Ohio court emphasized that "whether or not a practice or belief is religious is not an issue. . .religious practices . . . include moral or ethical beliefs as to what is right and wrong which are sincerely held with the strength of religious views." Plus, it didn't hurt that the plaintiff quoted the scripture when requesting a flu-shot accommodation from her employer.

*** And I plan to quote Biggie Smalls at compensation time ***

Ultimately, the court accepted that an employee may subscribe to veganism with a sincerity equating that of traditional religious views. Consequently, in certain curcumstances, a vegan can avoid an otherwise mandated flu shot, unless it would post an undue hardship to the employee. But I'm thinking a surgical mask could solve that problem.

Now, if you'll excuse me, somebody has a craving for thawing pops.

Me, that somebody is me.

UPDATE: If you're a California vegan, you're out of luck. As two readers noted on LinkedIn, in this case, a California Court of Appeal -- yes California?!? -- refused to recognize Veganism as a religion requiring accommodation under anti-discrimination laws. For more on the CA decision, go here and here.

November 29, 2012

Christian employee + Ramadan bagel party = hostile work environment?

cantmakethisup.jpgYep, someone -- represented by a licensed, practicing attorney -- brought this lawsuit.

***Shakes head // Smiles // Kisses statuette of Blogga-Blogga, the goddess of HR blogging fodder. Love you, boo.***

Bagel party -- whoop! whoop! -- after the jump...

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