Religious Accommodations in the Workplace

Under local, state and federal law, it is illegal for employers to discriminate against employees based on their religion. This includes not only major religions such as Judaism, Christianity, and Islam but any religious belief. Additionally, employers are required to provide employees with a requested religious accommodation, provided that the accommodation does not cause undue harm to the employer’s business. Religious accommodations are unlike other accommodations, however, such as disability accommodations. The best way for both employers and employees to understand their rights is by consulting an experienced NYC religious discrimination attorney.

At Lipsky Lowe LLP, we understand that an employee’s religious beliefs may require certain practices that carry over to the workplace, such as prayer, observing religious holidays, or wearing specific types of clothing or hairstyles. When these practices come into conflict with an employer’s policies, we work to find a workable solution for both parties. Knowing that freedom of religion is a fundamental right, we are committed to ensuring that employees are granted reasonable religious accommodations. If an employer refuses to grant such an accommodation to you, however, we will help you obtain just compensation.

What is a religious accommodation?

When an employee’s sincere religious belief conflicts with an employment policy, the employer is required to accommodate those beliefs and engage in an interactive process to resolve the conflict.

Examples of accommodations include:

  • Exceptions to dress or grooming requirements, such as allowing an employee to wear a religious headscarf (hijab) or skullcap (yarmulke), or allowing an employee to keep a long beard for religious reasons
  • Schedule changes to allow an employee to attend religious services, take time off for a weekly Sabbath day or religious holidays, breaks for prayer at specific times of the day
  • Providing a private space for prayer or other religious observances
  • Change in job duties that may conflict with an employee’s beliefs
  • Excusal from religious invocations at company meetings that conflict with an employee’s religious beliefs or lack thereof

Are religious expressions protected in the workplace?

Some religions require their adherents to express their beliefs while others may want to do so by using phrases such as “God bless you” when speaking with colleagues. On the one hand, an employee who is barred from expressing sincere religious beliefs may feel discriminated against. On the other, an employee is subjected to a colleague’s religious views may feel harassed. The question is how to strike a balance.

Nonetheless, the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) has held that employers must allow employees to express their religious beliefs in the workplace, provided that is does not cause undue hardship to the employer. Additionally, religious expression cannot be more restricted than other forms of expression (e.g. political arguments) that may have a similar effect on the work environment.

In any event, attempting to proselytize in the workplace infringes on the rights of others and may constitute unlawful harassment.

When does a religious accommodation become an undue hardship?

It is worth noting that an employer is not required to provide a specific requested religious accommodation, but rather work with the employee to devise a workable plan. An employer is not required to provide an accommodation that will cause undue hardship for the company, however, and an accommodation that imposes more than minor costs does not need to be provided.

Examples of costs that are not considered minor include administrative costs (e.g. time spent changing schedules, payroll information), and payment of overtime to an employee who covers a co-workers shift to accommodate a Sabbath observance on a limited basis.

In addition to cost considerations, a religious accommodation may be considered an undue hardship if it:

  • Significantly affects employee morale
  • Reduces workplace efficiency
  • Infringes on other workers’ rights
  • Creates safety issues
  • Requires coworkers to assume burdensome or hazardous work

Finally, while an undue hardship under federal law is one that poses more than a minimal cost to the employer, under the New York City Human Rights Law undue hardship means one that requires significant expense or difficulty to the employer.

Why Choose Lipsky Lowe

Although determining whether a religious accommodation will cause undue hardship, failing to do so is a form of religious discrimination. At Lipsky Lowe, our practice is devoted to eliminating discrimination from the workplace in all its forms. If you have been denied a reasonable religious accommodation, or have been subjected to harassment or discrimination because of your religious beliefs, we will fight to protect your rights. At the same time, we work with employers to ensure that their policies and procedures do not come into conflict with an employee’s right to religious expression and accommodations. When you consult us, you will have the strength of our religious accommodations attorneys in your corner. Please contact our office today to set up a free consultation.

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