Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 prohibits discrimination in employment on the basis of race, color, religion, sex, and national origin. Title VII only applies to employers who employ 15 or more employees for 20 or more weeks in the current or preceding calendar year.
Title VII requires employers to reasonably accommodate an employee's religious beliefs and practices, unless doing so creates an undue hardship. In short, this means:
• Employers may not treat employees more or less favorably because of their religion
• Employees cannot be required to participate or to refrain from participating in a religious activity as a condition of employment
• Employers must reasonably accommodate employees' sincerely held religious practices unless doing so would impose an undue hardship on the employer
• Employers must take steps to prevent religious harassment of their employees
• Employers may not retaliate against employees for asserting rights under Title VII
Title VII's religious accommodation requirement applies not only to schedule changes or leave for religious observances, but also to such things as dress or grooming practices that an employee has for religious reasons.
A reasonable accommodation is one that eliminates the employee's conflict between his or her religious practices and work requirements, but does not cause an undue hardship for the employer. Requested accommodations may vary, from needing a particular day off each year for a religious holiday to refraining from work each week on his or her Sabbath day to wearing religious garb to having a place to pray. Examples of accommodations may include shift swaps between employees, voluntary assignment substitutions, flexible scheduling, lateral transfers to other positions in the company and the use of lunch time in exchange of early departure.
An undue hardship occurs where an employer incurs more than minimal costs to accommodate an employee's religious practice. An accommodation may cause undue hardship if it is costly, compromises workplace safety, decreases workplace efficiency, infringes on the rights of other employees, or requires other employees to do more than their share of potentially hazardous or burdensome work. For example, an employer probably will not have to train a part-time employee at substantial cost in order to cover for another employee who is unable to work on Saturdays. An employer is also generally not required to pay premium or overtime costs in order to accommodate the religious needs of employees.
When an employee or applicant needs an accommodation for religious reasons, he or she has a responsibility to notify the employer that he or she needs such an accommodation for religious reasons. Employers must be clear when explaining why they need an accommodation, because vague objections, like saying he or she cannot work a particular day because of cultural tradition will not suffice. However, it is important to note that an employee does not have the justify or prove anything about their religious belief to the employer. If the employer reasonably needs more information, the employer and the employee should engage in an interactive process to discuss the request. If it would not pose an undue hardship, the employer must grant the accommodation.
If you have any questions regarding these religious accommodation issues, contact the Law Offices of Santiago J. Padilla, P.A. as soon as possible. Based in Miami, Florida, we represent employers and employees throughout South Florida in employment cases. To set up an initial consultation, you can contact us through the Internet or call us at (305) 358-1949.