Must we accommodate this employee’s beliefs? She says witchcraft is her religion!

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in Discrimination and Harassment,Human Resources

Q. We have an employee who claims to be a witch. She contends that witchcraft is her religion and has asked for time off on certain “holidays.” 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 any bona fide religious beliefs that conflict with an employer’s policy or practice, unless the accommodation would create an undue hardship.

Unfortunately for employers, the EEOC has taken the position that an employee’s beliefs, although not traditionally religious, may be protected under Title VII if they are held “with the strength of traditional religious views.”

The federal agency reached that conclusion in a Cali­fornia case involving a bus driver who was fired for re­fusing to distribute to his passengers coupons for 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.”

Thus, you may choose to provide this employee with certain accommodations—such as granting time off to ­attend a ritual—to avoid possible litigation.

{ 13 comments… read them below or add one }

jason September 26, 2011 at 5:34 pm

actually, no the employer is not “required to comply/accomadate” their employees request for time off to observe his/her holiday… but they should be prepared to be spending alot of money in court for failing to do so… especially if that employee has deep pockets, or knows a lawyer willing to take on the lawsuit…

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Bibliophile September 20, 2011 at 7:31 am

For those saying that if the employee in question may be being confused with a Wiccan and should therefore state the name of her belief more clearly, Witchcraft *IS* the name of belief for a large number of people. It just so happens to be a general term to. Kind of like “Christian”. It can mean the entire faith as a whole (including Catholics and Protestants) or it can be specified by a denomination. Witchcraft’s denominations can include Wicca, but also Asatru, Dianic, Norse/German/Egyptian/etc Reconstructionism, (and a large number more) or an adaptation of common Pagan and personal beliefs.

In addition, I hope the employer realizes that just because it’s not one of “the big three” religions, doesn’t mean other people’s faith can be disregarded because you know nothing about it. And by the way, Wicca is a federally recognized faith.

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Jeff September 20, 2011 at 1:23 am

The problem is, enough people do equate Wicca with witchcraft that it is possible that she said Wicca, and her employer, who is the one who posted the question, chose to say witchcraft. Remember the game of “Telephone” we used to play as children. One person says something, and by the end of it, what is heard is entirely different. So it is possible that she DID say witchcraft…And possible that she said Wicca. But I agree, I also hope that they can come to an amicable agreement.

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Sandy September 20, 2011 at 1:11 am

Although Wicca is protected as a religion, witchcraft is not the same thing as the Neo Pagan religion of Wicca. As stated in the example you posted, “EEOC has taken the position that an employee’s beliefs, although not traditionally religious, may be protected under Title VII if they are held “with the strength of traditional religious views.” is probably true. If she wants her beliefs to be protected based on religion, she would be better off citing what religion she belongs to. Did she mean Wicca? Many people confuse the terms Wicca and witchcraft due to a misunderstanding of the term and its origins in the 1950s – 70s. Many who were brought up believing that the terms were synonymous with one another are resistant to altering their perception on that point, even in light of the refutation of the assertion. Or does she mean she is part of a different pagan religion? If so she would probably be better off using the name of her religion as I stated earlier. Is she a Christian/Muslim/Jewish practitioner of witchcraft who has incorporated pagan holidays into her practice? Using the term “witchcraft” is confusing and non specific, and therefore is likely to cause issues. I hope she can come to an amicable agreement with her work.

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Jeff September 13, 2011 at 3:02 pm

Equating witchcraft with vegetarianism is not accurate at all.

Vegetarianism is a lifestyle choice, not a religion. Wiccan beliefs, however, are, in fact, religious in nature.

Now, I don’t know when the wiccan rituals in question might be held, but unless they take the whole day and night, it is possible to schedule work around them with only minor adjustments, AS IT IS DONE BY SOME COMPANIES FOR CHRISTIANS.

Heck, many lower elvel jobs, the schedule changes each week, and unless the employee is asking for work off the entire week, or when everyone else is already going to have off, there is no reason that the schedule can’t be worked out around the dates in question in those jobs.

And as for the higher level jobs, salaried ones don’t accept overtime, despite the fact that said employees often have enough work some weeks to be at 40 hours before the week is out. So why not work around holidays for those jobs? I see no reason it cannot work anyways…and for holidays shared in common, no reason not to give her the days off then either.

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Dana Corby September 13, 2011 at 2:37 pm

Ah, but Shadow, as a Christian you probably haven’t been very aware of the subtle but pervasive bias toward your religion in public life. Many Witches and other Pagans don’t even bother to ask for accommodation, afraid that they’ll be fired for their faith. And before you protest that doesn’t happen, it does: I’ve lost jobs twice once the boss became aware of my beliefs, and almost all my friends have had similar experiences. It takes a very liberal workplace for us to feel safe even asking.

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Shadow September 13, 2011 at 2:15 pm

I’m a Christian. That being said, I donnae’ much like the tone of this Q&A either. One’s religious or spiritual beliefs are for no one to judge as valid or invalid. So aye, accommodation is nright and necessary. In that same breath, people of whatever belief should not claim persecution if an employer cannot or will not accommodate. To be honest, many Christians in the workplace get denied just as much as those of other beliefs. This doesn’t negate the employers out there who are biased against beliefs other than their own. Unfortunately that happens. But as one of the posters above said, find a way around it. There’s more than one road to a destination. Depends on which road you choose to take..

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Dana Corby September 12, 2011 at 5:09 pm

Yes, the employer should have to accommodate their employee’s religious observances. That said, though, I have been a Witch all my adult life (I’m 65) and always made it a practice to BE the accommodation I sought: I would offer to work on Christian holidays that didn’t matter to me in exchange for a co-worker working on a Wiccan holiday that didn’t matter to them.

While it’s important that Witches and other alternative religionists be afforded the same civil rights as other Americans, I think today’s young Witches are too focused on their ‘rights’ and not enough on how to get along in a multicultural society. You meet your immediate goal by being prickly but you win friends — and meet your long-term goals — through graciousness.

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LR September 12, 2011 at 9:00 am

Said employer needs to be informed that Wicca (witchcraft) is a legally recognized religion in the US, complete with non-profit churches, clergy and organizations, pentacles on Arlington National Cemetery Wiccan soldiers graves, etc.

Said employer also – I’m sure – has NEVER asked:
“Q. We have an employee who claims to be a Christian. She contends that Christianity is her religion and has asked for time off on certain “holidays.” Are we required to accommodate this employee’s request?”

>.<

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Makarios September 11, 2011 at 6:59 pm

“Unfortunately for employers, the EEOC has taken the position that an employee’s beliefs, although not traditionally religious, may be protected under Title VII. . . .”

“Unfortunately?” Really? In what way, exactly, is it unfortunate? Would it be more fortunate if employers were allowed to decide which religions are somehow legitimate and which aren’t? Sheesh!

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Michelle September 11, 2011 at 3:06 pm

This shouldnt even be a question. I hope the person asking the question and the person who answered it look up things and learn that witchcraft is a religion and people deserve to have the holidays off to worship.
http://www.witchesprotection.com/LawMemorandum.html

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Lyssa September 10, 2011 at 12:29 pm

I would add my support to Sarah’s comments, as I also am a witch. I keep my beliefs to my self, but I also will not have my beliefs ridiculed as in the tone of this Q & A. Strange as it seems for most, it’s the fringe characters that give us a bad name. If the media would quit obessing about the lunatic fringe of our beliefs and treat us with a modicum of respect, we would not be the butt of jokes and religious discrimination.
As pagans, we also should not go about acting like the victim, as I’ve seen other of my belief do, to elicit sympathy from the public. It more often backfires than helps the individual. Sarah’s links are very helpful and informative to employers and I encourage HR to read them thouroughly.

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Sarah September 8, 2011 at 8:36 am

Hello. I am a practicing witch. I find the derogatory tone of the question offinsive. Wicca (witchcraft) is a real religion with many established, official societies throughout the world. The religion is older than many “real” religions, including Christianity. Many of the holidays the person in question will need time off for will fall close to or on Christian holidays so it’s unlikely there will be “undue hardship”. I would suggest some sensitivity training for the HR department and some basic, informational education in the religion of Wicca. http://www.religioustolerance.org/witchcra.htm or http://www.allaboutreligion.org/wicca-religion.htm would be good places to start.

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