How much do you know about Title VII and accommodating religious beliefs in the workplace?
When Kim Davis, a county clerk in Kentucky, made headlines last summer over her refusal to perform a specific function of her job, issuing marriage licenses, on the grounds that doing so for gay couples violated her religious beliefs, HR managers everywhere paid attention. Davis declared that she would not issue licenses to any couples at all, rather than begin to issue them to same-sex couples (even though the Supreme Court ruling made such marriage a legal right in every state). She was jailed for contempt of court and later released when she agreed not to interfere with the issuance of marriage licenses to same-sex couples by deputy clerks in her office.
In light of this incident, we decided to take a closer look at what is required by most employers when an employee requests accommodations for their religious beliefs.
Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 (Title VII)
Title VII prohibits employers with 15 or more employees from discriminating against or harassing employees on the basis of the employee’s religion. Title VII also requires that employers provide reasonable accommodation for an employee’s sincerely held religious belief, unless that accommodation would create an undue hardship for the employer. In addition to this federal act, most states have their own fair employment laws prohibiting religious discrimination, and in some cases these state laws are even stricter for employers.
“If an employee requests a religious accommodation, you as his or her employer should make a concerted effort to explore possible accommodations,” says Tina Hamilton, PHR, president of myHR Partner. “Things like offering floating holidays and flexible lunch times or work hours for religious observances and practices may be deemed reasonable accommodations.”
“Keep in mind that ‘undue hardship’ for an employer is a determination that is not up to you,” adds Hamilton. The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) defines the standard for undue hardship in religious accommodation as either causing more than the ordinary administrative costs or causing a change in a bona fide established seniority system that would deny another employee the job or shift preference guaranteed by that seniority system. “Title VII also covers job applicants and what’s known as people with associations with a person of a particular religion, such as a spouse or a child,” says Hamilton.
The blog HR.BLR.com recently posted an in-depth look at this issue and offered this advice to employers in order to avoid religious discrimination in their workplace:
Be aware of the potential need to accommodate the religious beliefs of an employee or applicant
If an applicant or employee requests an accommodation for a religious belief or practice, engage in an interactive process (basically, a conversation with the individual) to determine what accommodation is needed and the effect it will have on the employer’s business
Provide the accommodation if it will not create an undue hardship
Provide training for managers and others involved in the hiring process and harassment prevention training for all employees
Training Your Managers About Discrimination and Harassment Is Critical!
The time to prepare your management team is before an accommodation request occurs. Make sure they know what constitutes religious harassment and discrimination and how to react to complaints. myHR Partner has a wide range of training offerings that will help you educate your managers so that they can play a pivotal role in protecting your organization and its brand. Beyond being simply good for business, some states, like California, require annual or periodic harassment training as well.
Whether you are looking for workshops on harassment or some other HR need, our team is ready to assist you. Click here for more on our dynamic and customizable training programs.