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Must we accommodate beliefs that don’t seem particularly ‘religious’?

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in Firing,Human Resources

Q. We have an employee who claims to be a witch. She contends that witchcraft is her religion and has asked for certain holidays off. Are we required to accommodate this employee’s request?

A. Title VII of the Civil Rights Act prohibits employers from discriminating against workers on the basis of their “religion.” Further, employers are required to accommodate bona fide religious beliefs that conflict with an employer’s policy or practice (unless the accommodation would create an “undue hardship”).

The EEOC has taken the position that an employee’s beliefs, although not “religious,” may be protected if they are held “with the strength of traditional religious views.”

The federal agency reached this conclusion in a case involving a bus driver who was fired for refusing to distribute to his passengers coupons for a free hamburgers at a local fast food restaurant. The driver contended that eating meat conflicts with his vegetarian beliefs. The EEOC equated the bus driver’s vegetarianism to a religious belief and concluded that the employer had engaged in illegal conduct by firing him.

Based on this finding, the EEOC may conclude that you have an obligation to accommodate an employee who believes in witchcraft “with the strength of traditional religious views.” Making certain accommodations (such as granting time off to attend a ritual) might avoid possible litigation.

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