Legally, organizations are required to accommodate religious expression in the workplace to the extent they can do so reasonably and if it doesn't create an undue burden. The U.S. Supreme Court last year affirmed this principle when it ruled against Abercrombie & Fitch in a surprising 8-1 decision written by Justice Scalia. While the late justice was a devout Catholic, he was widely viewed as no friend to EEOC claims.
In the Cargill case, the Somali workers believed that they had been told about unacceptable changes in their prayer time at work, including that such breaks might not always be available and that they had to take breaks in smaller groups. Allegedly, one supervisor told a worker that if he wanted to pray he should just "go home," according to Jaylani Hussein of CAIR, a Muslim advocacy group. While Cargill denies these claims, the company admits that because of their complicated schedule, prayer requests might not always be granted. While the dispute plays out, several workers have filed claims with the EEOC, and some have had to move on to find other jobs.
What should you do?
Be cautious when considering religious expression cases at work. Make sure that you consult your HR or legal expert before you turn down a request or refuse to hire someone because you believe that they may need accommodation.
Did You Know?
We always cover religious expression in the workplace when we teach classes on harassment and discrimination. Make sure that your managers and supervisors know how to handle these issues. Call us at 303-216-1020 or visit our website at www.workplacesthatwork.com to learn more. Check out Lynne's books on sexual harassment and affirmative action.