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Allow religious days off if at all possible

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Employers are required to reasonably accommodate employees’ religious beliefs. That can include adjusting work hours, such as not scheduling employees to work on worship or holy days.

Never punish an employee who tells you he must miss work for religious reasons unless you have considered possible accommodations.

Here’s why: If the employee sues (or the EEOC sues on his behalf) and shows a connection between the discipline and work missed for religious reasons, you’ll have to produce proof that making the religious accommodation would have been an undue hardship. That’s tough to do if you never even tried to accommodate him.

Recent case: Banayah Israel was a member of the Hebrew Israelite faith, whose adherents cannot work on Saturdays. Nonetheless, he accepted a job as a dump truck driver, knowing there would be some Saturday work.

When working Saturdays rolled around, Israel told his supervisor he couldn’t work for religious reasons. He also brought in a note from his spiritual leader explaining the reason. Still, the trucking company disciplined Israel and ultimately fired him.

The EEOC took up his case. The 4th Circuit Court of Appeals found that three of four disciplinary actions the company took against Israel were related to Saturday work conflicts. That was enough to meet Israel’s initial burden of proof.

The employer will now have to show that accommodating his schedule would have been an undue hardship. (EEOC v. Thompson Contracting, et al., No. 08-1626, 4th Cir., 2009)

Final note: Remember to respect all religions, even those that may seem far outside the mainstream. The fact is, any genuinely held belief system probably qualifies as a religion. For example, the U.S. armed forces even recognize Wicca as a religion.

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