What is a Religious Accommodation in the Workplace? | BKL

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What is a Religious Accommodation in the Workplace?

Posted August 16, 2022 | Discrimination, Employment Law

When many people hear the term “reasonable accommodation”, they likely associate it with individuals with mental or physical disabilities and the Americans with Disabilities Act. In this case, a reasonable accommodation is a modification or adjustment that enables an employee with a disability to perform their job duties and have equal opportunities. However, this is not the only time when reasonable accommodations in the workplace are necessary for employees. Some employees may require accommodations due to their religious beliefs. Religious accommodations in the workplace are adjustments that allow an employee to practice their religion.

Federal, state, and local laws make it illegal to discriminate against employees for their religious beliefs, which includes traditional organized religion and sincerely held religious, ethical, or moral beliefs. Because of this, employers are prohibited from refusing an employee’s request for an accommodation related to their religion unless it causes them undue hardship.

Examples of Religious Accommodations in the Workplace

There are many different ways an employee may require religious accommodations in the workplace. Religious accommodations can vary greatly from person to person depending on the employee’s job and what their religious practice requires of them.

Some examples of religious accommodations an employee may need include:

  • Dress codes – Various religions require certain articles of clothing or grooming practices. For example, some religions require women to wear long dresses and skirts, while many others require specific types of head coverings. Religious grooming practices include those such as requiring certain hairstyles or uncut hair and beards. In some workplaces, there may be policies and dress codes that prevent employees from following this aspect of their religion, requiring them to request an accommodation.
  • Work schedules – Some employees may need to request schedule changes to observe religious services and ceremonies on certain days. Additionally, some religions may require prayer and observances at certain times of the day that employees may need to request a break schedule that allows for this.
  • Job task reassignment – If certain job tasks go against an employee’s religious beliefs, they may request for these assignments to be swapped.

What is Undue Hardship?

As with reasonable accommodations for disabilities, employers can deny an employee’s request for a religious accommodation if it would cause them undue hardship. According to the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, a religious accommodation can cause undue hardship in a variety of ways, such as:

  • Exceeds budgets
  • Compromises workplace safety
  • Decreases workplace efficiency
  • Infringes on other employees’ rights
  • Requires other employees to do more than their share of potentially hazardous or burdensome work

How to Request a Religious Accommodation

If an employee needs to request a religious accommodation, they should notify their employee verbally or in writing, although having written evidence of this request is often advised. Some workplaces may have procedures in play for employees to request religious accommodations. Employees should also know that they don’t have to use any “magic words” when requesting an accommodation. This means that they don’t have to specifically say the term “religious accommodation” but rather, make their employer aware of a conflict between their religious beliefs and a workplace policy.

Even if the employee has only recently adapted these beliefs, employers shouldn’t assume that this means they aren’t sincerely held. As an employee’s religious beliefs may change over time, so may the accommodations they require. However, there are cases where employers may need more information to approve a request. This is especially true for smaller, not well-known religions. They may ask for additional information to understand how the employee’s religious beliefs conflict with their policies.

Contact Our New York City Religious Discrimination Attorneys for Help

Your religious beliefs are an important part of who you are and are not something that should ever be used to treat you unfairly. If you’ve experienced religious discrimination in your workplace, Brown Kwon & Lam can help protect you. Our NYC religious discrimination attorneys can help fight for you to receive fair treatment.

Contact our employment discrimination attorneys today for more information.

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