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When worried about religious accommodation, keep lines of communication open

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in Discrimination and Harassment,Employment Law,Hiring,HR Management,Human Resources

Employers are supposed to accommodate all religions and their practices when reasonable. If you don’t train managers to handle accommodation requests with dignity, you may find yourself facing a religious discrimination lawsuit.

Recent case: Dwayne Butler worked for a company that required regular drug testing to maintain a drug-free workplace and prevent injuries. At first, the company relied on urinalysis. But, when employees began to try to game the system by tampering with their urine samples, it moved to a saliva test. Butler agreed to be tested and passed.

A year later, he had begun practicing the Afro-Caribbean religion of Santeria; some practitioners believe a person who possesses another’s saliva can control the practitioner. Butler refused to undergo another saliva test, telling the testing nurse it was against his religion. When a company HR specialist asked him what religion he belonged to, Butler replied “Santeria,” and offered to give a blood or urine sample. Angry words were exchanged and Butler was fired.

He went to the EEOC, which sued on his behalf.

The company argued that it needed more information about Butler’s religion in order to accommodate it, and that by quarreling, Butler gave up his right to a reasonable accommodation.

The court disagreed. It said that Butler’s offer to undergo blood or urine testing was reasonable, and the employer erred when it suddenly fired him. A trial will follow. (EEOC v. GKN Driveline, No. 1:09-654, MD NC, 2010)

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