A person's religion is not like his sex or race, something obvious from a glance. That's why Title VII imposes a duty on workers to provide fair warning of any employment practices that interfere with their religion (such as Saturday or Sunday work hours). You must make an effort to accommodate those needs, but only if you know of them first.
As the following case shows, employees can't redefine a personal preference or aversion as a religious belief to grab the law's protection. (If they could, they might claim that Monday morning work hours are against their "spirituality.")
Recent case: As top hotel housekeeper, it was Melvin Reed's responsibility to make sure Bibles were placed in each room. Reed's manager asked him to meet with Gideons' Inter-national representatives when they delivered Bibles. Unex-pectedly, the meeting included Bible reading and prayers. Reed complained to his manager, and the dispute led to his firing.
The company said Reed's insubordination caused his firing. But Reed sued, citing religious discrimination. A federal appeals court tossed out his lawsuit. Reason: Throughout the lawsuit, Reed refused to indicate his religion, if any, and couldn't show how his employer failed to accommodate him. Reed provided no proof that he was fired because of his religious beliefs.
Bottom line: The court saw a difference between an employee seeking an accommodation to his stated religious faith and one who disobeyed orders because it's inconsistent with his unstated beliefs. You aren't obligated to accommodate every assertion that a job violates some vague religious belief, the court said. (Reed v. The Great Lakes Companies Inc., No. 02-3371, 7th Cir., 2003)
Final note: Be careful when addressing the sincerity of an employee's belief. Err on the side of caution (and acceptance) and don't let your actions stem from what you believe religion should resemble.
- Whom you don't want suing you for age discrimination
- When push comes to shove, no retaliation unless protected right was violated first
- Beware legal risks of using school transcripts in hiring
- Make termination decisions stick by documenting discipline at the time it occurs
- What should a handbook disclaimer say?