April 19, 2017
The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission announced that it filed a lawsuit last month against a South Carolina company that allegedly refused to accommodate a truck driver’s religious beliefs. The employee apparently subscribed to a Hebrew Pentecostal religious faith that forbade him from engaging in labor during the prescribed Sabbath (Saturday). The EEOC alleged that the trucking company engaged in religious discrimination against the driver after he was terminated for refusing to work a particular Saturday.
While this case is pending and the company is sure to defend itself vigorously, Carolina employers can learn two valuable lessons from this lawsuit. First, federal law protects all aspects of religious observance and practice and defines religion very broadly, including organized religions and new, uncommon, or nontraditional religions. Employers should not be quick to dismiss a “religious” belief on the basis that it is unpopular and/or seemingly illogical.
Second, the law may require an employer to reasonably accommodate an employee whose sincerely held belief or observance conflicts with a work requirement unless doing so would pose an undue hardship. Some common accommodations may involve scheduling changes, voluntary substitutes, and shift swaps. Substitutions or swaps do not have to be permitted if they pose more than a de minimis cost or burden to business operations, but employers should engage in a constructive and interactive dialogue with employees to discuss options and potential accommodations. Companies should also be prepared to articulate why a specific request is an undue burden before denying a reasonable accommodation.
The EEOC has published a number of resources on religious discrimination in the workplace. Feel free to contact the Nexsen Pruet Labor and Employment Law team if you need assistance navigating these issues and avoid getting unnecessarily entangled with the EEOC on a religious discrimination claim.
Our Insights are published as a service to clients and friends. They are intended to be informational and do not constitute legal advice regarding any specific situation.