Q. Our company requires employees to work on weekends because those are our busiest days. When we hire, we ask applicants about their weekend availability. Now a few employees claim their religious beliefs have changed and they need time off on Saturdays or Sundays to attend church. Can we turn down the requests based on their original applications? — N.N., Texas
A. Denying an employee an appropriate accommodation for religious practice is unlawful and could leave your company vulnerable to costly litigation. Always get legal advice before denying a request.
It isn’t unusual for an individual to undergo changes to his or her religious beliefs. Holding an employee to his application availability may be unreasonable. The Supreme Court has gone as far as to state that, “the First Amendment protects the free exercise of rights of employees who adopt religious beliefs or convert from one faith to another after they are hired.”
The bottom line: You can’t use the application as an absolute bar to requests for accommodations. You must try to come up with a compromise that satisfies the employee’s religious needs. Only if doing so creates an undue hardship can you deny the request.