Imagine this, its Friday and you are sitting in your office as Director of Verizon’s newly created Office of Reasonable Accommodation. An employee, I’ll call him Joe, walks into your office. Joe tells you he’s recently converted to the Church of the Flying Spaghetti Monster (i.e., he is now a Pastafarian); that Friday’s are his religion’s holiday; and that his religion requires him to wear a spaghetti strainer on his head at all times. He requests, as a reasonable accommodation of his religious beliefs, all Friday’s off from work and to have the photograph on his employee identification badge retaken so that he be shown wearing a colander on his head. What do you do?
Most employment civil rights laws require that employers treat all employees equally without regard to age, sex, color, race, national origin etc. The ADA and Title VII’s protection of employee’s religious beliefs, however, may require employers to treat employees differently (i.e., reasonable accommodation). Here, Joe’s request to accommodate his beliefs (which appear sincerely held) can only be denied if accommodating the belief would cause undue hardship to the employer. Undue hardship under Title VII is different than under the ADA. Under Title VII, a proposed religious accommodation is often an undue hardship where it requires the employer to incur more than de minimus expense; violates a CBA, law or valid seniority system; ignores safety risks or requires other employees to work longer or harder.
Applying these rules to Joe’s request, unless you can establish that for security reasons employee photographs on access badges must be taken without headwear, you should probably tell Joe to get his colander while you get out the Kodak. With respect to the request for all Fridays off, unless Joe’s request would violate a CBA provision regarding bidding for schedules or would otherwise make Joe’s co-workers work longer or harder, Joe should probably be allowed to take his Fridays off.
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