Q. We have an employee who claims to belong to a religious sect I have never heard of. Their alleged holidays always occur on Mondays. Do I have to give her these holidays off? — J.F., Missouri
A. It depends on whether giving the employee time off for her religious holidays would be a hardship to your company. Title VII, which prohibits religious discrimination in the workplace, requires you to reasonably accommodate an employee’s religious practices, unless doing so would create an “undue hardship” for the employer. The most common accommodation methods include flexible scheduling, voluntary shift swaps, lateral transfers, changing the job assignment or and modifying workplace policies.
It’s important to realize that Title VII defines “religion” broadly. In addition to traditional religions, Title VII requires accommodations for religious beliefs that are uncommon, not part of a formal church or held by a few people. So it’s not necessary for you to have heard of the employee’s religious sect for it to receive Title VII protection.
The accommodation process: The employee must first notify the employer that she needs an accommodation. The employer then has a duty to accommodate the religious practices unless doing so would pose an undue hardship on the company. An accommodation qualifies as an undue hardship if you can show that it would cause more than a de minimis cost. Determining the line of an undue hardship is very fact-specific and, in this case, depends on factors such as how frequently the employee will take off Mondays and the effect of the absence on the employer. If your organization has granted similar requests in the past, it should grant this request also.