Religious accommodations in the workplace

The Civil Rights Act of 1964 protects employees in Wisconsin and around the country from discrimination based on race, age, gender or national origin, and it also requires employers to make reasonable accommodations when workers make requests of a religious nature. Such accommodations are usually straightforward and rarely amount to more than allowing employees to take short periods of time off to attend religious ceremonies or services, but companies may face difficult decisions when the worker concerned performs particularly hazardous or important work.

The law allows employers to refuse religious accommodations in situations where granting them would create undue levels of hardship, and courts have generally been called upon to determine if employers have acted fairly in these situations. Applicable federal law does not specify what are and what are not an unreasonable requests, but decisions from the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission do provide some guidance for employers facing these decisions.

The EEOC has determined that requests for religious accommodations may cause undue hardship if they would likely lead to increased operating expenses or reduced levels of efficiency. Accommodations may also be considered unreasonable if agreeing to them would violate or infringe upon other workers’ rights or make working conditions more hazardous or burdensome.

For those with devout religious beliefs, being denied the opportunity to prey or attend a religious service can cause great emotional distress. Attorneys with employment law experience will likely be familiar with EEOC rulings concerning religious accommodations, and they may seek to settle disputes over these matters amicably whenever possible. Attorneys could suggest a middle ground, such as scheduling changes or reassignments, when requests for religious accommodations cannot be granted, but they may also advocate on behalf of the workers concerned when these recommendations are rebuffed.

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