Offer reasonable religious accommodations—and then insist that workers follow them

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in Employee Benefits Program,Employment Law,Human Resources

Employees whose sincerely held religious beliefs conflict with their employer’s workplace beliefs may be eligible for unemployment compensation benefits. But they can’t collect benefits if their beliefs aren’t sincere—or if their employer offered reasonable accommodations and they didn’t take advantage of those offers.

Recent case: A group of Somali Muslims who worked at a chicken processing plant sued the company when they didn’t get the breaks they needed to adhere to their religious beliefs.

After much negotiation, the plant came up with a plan that allowed employees to apply for special positions that allowed appropriate prayer breaks.

Then the plaintiffs walked off the job when the scheduled prayer times didn’t coincide with what they said was a necessary religious observance. The poultry company terminated them.

They filed for unemployment compensation, claiming they had no choice but to walk out, since their employer’s schedule didn’t accommodate their prayer needs. Several witnesses later revealed that the men laughed and rolled their eyes when managers tried to get them back to work because the production line came to a screeching halt.

The court rejected their claims, especially when evidence showed that some of the employees never even applied for special jobs with more flexible prayer time. Indeed, several never bothered to pray during their prayer time. All this cast doubt on their sincerity. (Osman, et al., v. JFC, No. A09-529, Minnesota Court of Appeals, 2009)

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