An Employer’s Checklist for Determining Reasonable Accommodation to Religion in the Workplace

Author's Note: Applicable law contemplates that when an employee requests a reasonable accommodation to his religious beliefs in the workplace, the employer will initiate an interactive process which will explore the possibility of making a reasonable accommodation to the employees religious needs without imposing an "undue hardship" upon the employer.

Whether a requested accommodation is "reasonable" and whether a "hardship is undue" are questions of fact which may be sent to juries who impart liability through the test of fairness.

The Courts have preferred that there be an interactive discussion between the religious employee and the employer. Here is a checklist to help employees satisfy their obligations.

1. Ask the employees to specify in writing what their religion requires they do with respect to their work.

Time off?

  • Sabbath observance
  • Holiday observance
  • Attendance at religious ceremonies

Dress requirement?

  • Head covers
  • Religious garb

Appearance requirements?

  • No beards
  • No long sideburns

Activities which violate religious requirements?

  • Abortion
  • Payment of union dues
  • Conscientious objection to employer activities

Displays of religious icons in the workplace?

The need to proselytize coworkers?

  • Bible study
  • Commenting on others beliefs or non beliefs

Getting the request in writing focuses the inquiry and does not leave the employer vulnerable to later claims that issues were raised which were not considered.

2. Ask the employees to specify, in writing, exactly what they are requesting as an accommodation.

Paid time off?

Use of paid vacation, personal or sick days?

Additional paid time off?

  • Over and above personal and vacation allowance?

Unpaid time off?

Wearing religious garb?

  • Head coverings
  • Other clothing

Excuse from certain activities in the job?

  • Abortion-related activities
  • Making instruments of war

Only with the request specifically pinned down can an employer begin to consider whether the requested accommodation is reasonable or creates an undue hardship.

3. Calculate the burden imposed by the requested accommodation?

Will it cost more?

  • Work coverage by others at premium rates
  • Payment for time not worked

Will it interfere with the employee's ability to do needed work?

Is uniform garb and appearance an important public relations consideration (e.g., can uniformed police wear turbans)?

Will displays of religious iconography within the workplace offend customers or fellow employees?

Does proselytization interfere with other employees' work or environment.

4. Consider and offer alternative accommodations

Transfer to a job where

  • Appearance is not a buisness factor
  • Employee need not be involved in objectionable activities like abortion or other objectionable conduct
  • Regular attendance is not a necessity (e.g. flexible work schedule)

Allow employees to swap work with workers who have no religious objection to doing the work

  • Requesting coworkers to swap work
  • Posting request to swap work
  • Forcing other employees to swap work

5. Be sure that the accommodation does not adversely affect union-mandated seniority.

Seek union agreement or rejection in writing

6. If the employee objects, ask for a written objection stating why the employer-offered accommodation is unreasonable.

7. Consider the risks of not acceding to the employee's demand.

What is the hardship on the employer?

How much will it cost?

How will it affect other employees who will not agree to swap work?

What does the union (if any) say?

What is the current state of applicable law considering federal law as well as state and local anti-discrimination laws.