Here’s a twist on the already complicated matter of accommodating religious practices in the workplace. Employers might assume that if they come up with an accommodation that resolves the conflict, they have done all that’s required. It’s not that simple.
In fact, employees can argue that a workplace accommodation that allowed them to practice their religion was unreasonable if it wreaked havoc on other aspects of their lives.
The lesson: While employers get to pick the reasonable accommodation, that doesn’t mean an accommodation that’s inconvenient for employees is reasonable.
Recent case: A group of Muslim employees of Celestica sued because they were denied regular prayer breaks.
Generally, Muslims must offer a short prayer five times each day. Each prayer session lasts five to 10 minutes. Prayers occur at sunrise, midday, afternoon, sunset and night. On Fridays, midday prayer is communal and includes a short sermon, stretching prayer time to about 30 minutes.
Celestica offered to transfer all the Muslim employees to the night shift, which would automatically remove any conflict with their religious practices. The shift change would allow them to pray on their own time away from work, and the company wouldn’t have to provide disruptive prayer breaks at all.
The company argued that the proposed accommodation was reasonable because it completely resolved the conflict.
The court disagreed and ordered a jury trial. It accepted the employees’ argument that a disruptive move like the proposed shift change might have such a profound effect on their lives that it could not be reasonable. The case now goes to trial. (Haliye, et al. v. Celestica, No. 06-CV-4769, DC MN, 2010)