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Must you give employees Sundays off for ‘TV church’?

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in Discrimination and Harassment,Employment Law,HR Management,Human Resources,Leaders & Managers,Management Training

If employees ask for Sundays off from work for religious reasons, must they attend services in an actual church or synagogue that day? A new court ruling clarifies that the answer is “no.”

Case in Point: Kimberly Bloom, a cashier at an ALDI grocery store in Pennsylvania, asked for Sundays off from work for religious reasons. ALDI’s shift-rotation system required Bloom to work only one Sunday every two months. It also provided a voluntary shift-swap system so employees could trade days with co-workers.

Bloom told her boss that her religious convictions as a Christian prohibited her from working Sundays or from asking her co-workers to work in her place. The company offered to let her come in later so she could attend church services, but she said she didn’t go to church. Instead, she read the Bible, watched TV services at home and spent time with family.

When Bloom failed to show up to work on two Sundays, the store fired her. She filed a Title VII religious discrimination claim.

Employers, according to the EEOC, are required by federal law (Title VII) to “reasonably accommodate employees’ sincerely held religious practices unless doing so would impose an undue hardship on the employer.”

In court, ALDI argued that its voluntary shift-rotation policy was a “reasonable accommodation.” And it said that since Bloom didn’t go to church, her desire not to work the Sunday shifts was personal, not religious. (EEOC v. Aldi Inc.)

Result: The court sided with Bloom, saying that “Church attendance or membership in a particular sect is not necessary to assert a Title VII claim.”

The court also said the company’s shift-swapping policy was not a reasonable accommodation because Bloom “established that she sincerely believes that it is a sin to work on the Sabbath or to ‘support’ another person working on Sundays.”

Lessons learned

1. Train managers or open yourself to punitive damages. The court ruled that Bloom could seek punitive damages due to ALDI’s lack of management training regarding discrimination.

2. A policy is not an accommodation. The court said that rather than invoking a pre-existing policy, employers must respond with a good-faith effort to accommodate a person’s religious requests, “as opposed to merely relying on a system or policy.” Talk to the employee. Even more important is listening to the employee.
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Mindy Chapman is an attorney and president of Mindy Chapman & Associates LLC. She is a master trainer, keynote speaker and co-author of the ABA book,
Case Dismissed! Taking Your Harassment Prevention Training to Trial. 

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