Over fifty Muslim employees of Ariens Company in Brillion, Wisconsin are currently negotiating with the company over a amkrequested accommodation for their religious practices. These employees have been told that they may only take breaks to pray during the production’s scheduled break times, rather than at the times prescribed by their religion. The employees and the company are attempting to negotiate a resolution without litigation, but the situation these employees are facing raises questions broadly relevant to many employees: Is your employer obligated to accommodate your religious practices? If so, to what extent?

Both State and Federal Law Require Employers to “Reasonably Accommodate” Employees’ Religious Needs

Both state and federal law prohibit employment discrimination based on religion, and both define discrimination to include a refusal to reasonably accommodate an employee’s religious practices unless the employer can show an accommodation would impose an “undue hardship” on the employer’s business.

A reasonable accommodation is one that eliminates the conflict between the job and the religious practice. For example, if an employee’s religious beliefs prohibit her from working on Saturdays, an employer’s offer to allow her to work only one Saturday a month is not a reasonable accommodation because it does not eliminate the conflict between job and religion; the employee must still violate her religious beliefs once a month. However, the employee is not entitled to her choice of accommodation; if the employer offers an accommodation that would eliminate the conflict between job and religion, the employer has fulfilled its duty under the law, even if the employer requests a more favorable accommodation.

Even if a potential accommodation would reconcile the requirements of the job and the employee’s religion, an employer does not have to allow an accommodation that would cause an “undue hardship.” If the impact or cost for the employer is more than minimal, the company does not have to grant the accommodation.

Whether an accommodation imposes an undue hardship is very fact-specific and has to be determined on a case-by-case basis by looking at the entirety of the employer’s operations. For example, many religious accommodation cases involve employees seeking to wear religious clothes to work or for time off for religious observances; in some cases the employer must accommodate these religious needs, while in other cases accommodation is optional. An accommodation to allow prison employees to wear religious head coverings has been found to cause an undue hardship when the employer showed the coverings could be used against employees in an attack, could be used to smuggle contraband, or could be used to conceal the identity of the wearer. That same religious head wear, however, would likely have to be accommodated by the owner of a retail shop, as the same security concerns would not apply to that business. Because this inquiry is so fact-specific, seek the advice of an attorney if you would like to seek an accommodation for your religion.

If you believe you have been discriminated against on the basis of your religion, contact Hawks Quindel. Our experienced work discrimination attorneys may be able to help.

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Aaron Halstead