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Religious Accommodations in the Workplace: Balancing Beliefs and Business Needs

Our Philadelphia Business Lawyers at Sidkoff, Pincus & Green P.C. Can Help Your Business Stay Compliant

Religion plays a significant role in the lives of many individuals, influencing their behavior, dress, dietary habits, and observance of certain holidays. As business owners, it is crucial to understand how these religious practices intersect with workplace obligations and requirements.

Religious accommodation refers to any adjustment to the work environment allowing employees to practice their religion. The U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) requires employers to reasonably accommodate an employee’s religious beliefs or practices unless doing so would impose an undue hardship on the operation of the employer’s business.

Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 prohibits employers from discriminating against individuals because of their religion in hiring, firing, and other terms and conditions of employment. This includes accommodating religious beliefs unless it causes more than a minimal burden on the operations of the employer’s business.

The Necessity of Religious Accommodations

Beyond legal compliance, providing religious accommodations can contribute significantly to creating an inclusive and supportive workplace. It shows respect for employees’ differences and can enhance the sense of belonging, thus boosting morale and productivity. It also helps businesses attract and retain a diverse workforce.

Here are some examples of what reasonable religious accommodations may look like:

  • Flexible scheduling: If an employee observes a day of rest or prayer on a specific week, employers can offer flexible scheduling, such as allowing shift swaps with colleagues or offering compensatory time off.
  • Dress code exceptions: If an employee’s religious beliefs require them to wear specific garments, such as a hijab, turban, or yarmulke, employers can make exceptions to their dress code policy to accommodate these practices.
  • Dietary accommodations: If the workplace provides meals, consideration should be given to employees with religious dietary restrictions, such as offering kosher, halal, or vegetarian options.

What Are Unreasonable Accommodations?

Not everything, however, is a reasonable accommodation. If an employee requests the following, these might create an undue hardship for a business and may not be required. Examples of unreasonable accommodations include:

  • Full day off for religious observance every week: While employers should attempt to accommodate requests for time off for religious observances, they may not need to provide a full day off every week if it causes undue hardship, such as high costs or disruption to business operations. Instead, they might offer flexible scheduling or the use of vacation days.
  • Large-scale infrastructure changes: If an employee requests a dedicated prayer room, but space is limited, and repurposing an area would cause substantial difficulty or expense, the employer may suggest alternatives like using a private office or break room during prayer times.
  • Exemption from essential job duties: Employers may not need to accommodate a request requiring exemption from performing essential job functions. For example, a cashier who refuses to handle alcohol due to religious beliefs may be assigned to another role that does not involve alcohol rather than exempting them from this task.

Our Philadelphia Business Lawyers at Sidkoff, Pincus & Green P.C. Can Help Your Business Stay Compliant

While balancing religious accommodations and business needs can be challenging, it is both a legal requirement and a beneficial practice. Our team understands that implementing reasonable accommodations can foster an inclusive environment. Speak with our experienced Philadelphia business lawyers at Sidkoff, Pincus & Green P.C. about how we can help. Call 215-574-0600 or contact us online to schedule a consultation. Located in Philadelphia, we serve clients in New Jersey and Pennsylvania.