Use these employers’ mistakes to ensure you don’t end up on the wrong side of a religious bias lawsuit.
Though religious bias isn’t always front of mind for HR and managers, look no further than these three recent cases to see that firms are still getting hit hard for making mistakes about employees religious beliefs:
- A Jehovah’s Witness claimed that her employer, Ozarks Electric Cooperative, denied her a day off to attend a Jehovah’s Witness convention and then fired her when she went anyway. Final settlement price tag: $95,000.
- Voss Electric agreed to pay $82,500 after an applicant sued the company. The candidate claimed he was passed over for an open position because his religious beliefs didn’t align with the company’s.
- Senior Living Properties, LLC, settled a religious discrimination suit for $42,500 after failing to accommodate a workers’ request for Sundays off to attend religious services. The employee’s manager said that “God would excuse her from this religious restriction because she worked in the healthcare field.”
Respect the employee and your workplace
Here are some do’s and don’ts for handling an employee’s religious accommodation request, courtesy of Dawn Reddy Solowey of Seyfarth Shaw:
- Don’t question if the belief is real. So maybe you haven’t heard of an employee’s religion — or maybe you’ve never heard him or her talk about it before. Solowey still recommends taking an employee’s word that his or her belief is sincere. If it seems totally outlandish, take it up with an employment law attorney.
- Don’t flip-flop. Be careful about denying religious accommodation requests but allowing exceptions for secular reasons. And, of course, don’t allow an exception for one religion but deny it for another.
- Do document, document, document. Like every other aspect of the HR world, document the employee’s request, the accommodations offered and the staffer’s response. If you deny the request, explain why.
- Do consider other staffers. Get solid facts about the effect an accommodation might have on the workplace. How will it affect other people’s schedules? Will it cost money? If so, how much?