Human Resources News & Insights

‘Mark of the Beast’ keeps popping up in lawsuits: Are accommodations required?

Do you have to accommodate individuals whose religious beliefs lead them to think their jobs will brand them with the “Mark of the Beast?” Is this something you even have to worry about? 

Let’s tackle the second question first: Apparently, discrimination lawsuits involving the “Mark of the Beast” — and accommodation requests to avoid it — aren’t all that uncommon.

Just recently, we brought you the case of Beverly Butcher, Jr., who worked at Consol Energy’s Robinson Run Mine.

Butcher feared the hand scanner Consol used to track workers’ hours would imprint him with the “Mark of the Beast.” As a result, he said using the scanner went against his religious beliefs and asked HR officials to seek alternative options for him.

Apparently, the manufacturer of the scanner had heard these accusations before and was ready with a letter it passed along to Consol, which then gave to Butcher. It said the scanners “do not in any way have the ability to detect … or place the ‘mark of the Beast’ or any other mark on a person’s hand.”

In the end, Consol denied his request for accommodations.

Butcher then took his case to the EEOC, which filed a religious discrimination suit on his behalf. A jury then awarded Butcher $150,000.

Bottom line: These cases do need to be taken seriously.

Accommodations can’t ask you to violate federal law

Now, on to the first question: Do you have to accommodate individuals whose religious beliefs lead them to think their jobs will brand them with the “Mark of the Beast?”

The result of Butcher’s lawsuit may have you leaning toward “yes.” But really, these cases should be treated no differently from other religious or disability accommodation requests.

Rather than focusing on whether the person’s religious belief or disability is serious enough to warrant an accommodation, focus instead on whether or not providing an accommodation would create an undue business-related hardship.

Recently, in a case that went against an individual with a “Mark of the Beast” claim, a court determined that an accommodation request that would conflict with federal law would create an undue business hardship — and, therefore, could be denied.

The case involved job candidate Donald Yeager and another energy firm, FirstEnergy Generation Corp.

Yeager had applied for a job at FirstEnergy, which then asked Yeager for his Social Security number.

At that point, Yeager informed FirstEnergy that he had no Social Security number because, as court documents point out, “he had disclaimed and disavowed it on account of his sincerely held religious beliefs.”

Yeager believed that being identified by any number was tantamount to having the “Mark of the Beast.”

Yeager then sued, claiming religious discrimination.

His case, however, was thrown out by a court before it could go to trial.

In dismissing his case the court said the Internal Revenue Code requires employers such as FirstEnergy to collect and provide the Social Security numbers of their employees, and that violating a federal statute would impose an undue hardship on FirstEnergy.

Focus on the hardship question

The difference between Butcher’s case and Yeager’s: Providing Butcher with another method of logging his work hours likely wouldn’t have created an undue hardship for Consol.

Meanwhile, there appeared to be no way of accommodating Yeager without violating a federal statute.

In neither case were the individual’s religious beliefs called into question by the courts, and employers can expect that to be the case in other courtrooms.

In all but perhaps the rarest of cases, courts will focus the majority of their attention on assessing whether or not what individuals are asking for would create undue business-related hardships.

Cite: EEOC v. Consol Energy Inc. & Yeager v. FirstEnergy Generation Corp.

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