Easter, Passover, Hot Dogs & Veganism: Accommodating Religion in the Workplace

ReligiousSymbols.jpgAre the hot dogs all beef? Does the rice and beans have ham in it? Is there pork in that egg roll? These are some questions I often find myself asking before taking a bite. My husband makes fun of me and tells me I am hypocritical because I absolutely love shellfish of all types (shrimp, lobster, mussels, clams, you name it).  However, I consider it part of my sincerely held religious belief as a Jew who is “quasi-Kosher” that I do not eat pork products (although shellfish is also strictly forbidden).

In a similar way, employers in the US need to keep considerations around accommodating the religious beliefs of employees in mind. As well as being just plain considerate, this could also help minimize liability and dramatically reduce the risk of a lawsuit for religious discrimination and failure to accommodate religious beliefs.

So with the Spring holidays of Good Friday and Easter as well as Passover upon us, now’s a good time to reflect on both an employee’s rights and an employer’s obligations when it comes to accommodating an employee’s religious beliefs in the workplace.

Why an Interactive Approach to Religious Accommodation is Essential

For example, employees may request time off from work or a change in schedule to engage in religious worship, the right to pray at work, permission to wear religious clothing instead of the required uniform, or the right to display religious imagery in the workplace.

That is not to say an employer needs to agree to every request under the sun, but it should engage in an interactive process and carefully consider each request for religious accommodation to determine if one is feasible.

Veganism Can Constitute a Religious Belief

Employers should know that all religions are generally protected–not just well-known and organized ones such as Christianity, Judaism, Islam, Hinduism and Buddhism, but also lesser known belief systems.

For example, in Chenzira v. Cincinnati Children’s Hospital Medical Center, a federal district court in Ohio recently held that a belief in Veganism could constitute a religious belief to support an employee’s refusal of a mandatory flu vaccine.

 

An employee merely needs to show that the belief is a sincerely held one to be considered a religion, it does not need to have a concept of a god or gods, supreme beings or an afterlife.

What’s Your Approach to Accommodating Religious Beliefs in the Workplace?

What’s your perspective on the issues raised here? Do you have a religious accommodation policy in place? How do you handle requests for accommodations based on religion? Please get in touch via the comments box below.

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