In an increasingly diverse workforce, employers are facing more requests for religious accommodations. Gone are the days when employers could accommodate employees’ religious practices by being flexible about who worked Saturdays and Sundays.
Today, employers may have to offer additional prayer breaks in the middle of the workday, too.
Recent case: Atif Khan is a Pakistani Muslim who worked as a computer operations technician for a bank. He developed irritable bowel syndrome, which was apparently aggravated by stress and resulted in a series of medical absences. During one such medical leave, Khan traveled to Saudi Arabia to pray to Allah for his health.
When he returned to work, Khan asked for regular prayer breaks—presumably to continue his efforts to get better and to devoutly practice his religion. The bank approved his prayer breaks, but Khan later said that he thought his supervisor didn’t approve and got angry whenever he took those breaks.
Later, the bank fired Khan forand for getting into an argument with his supervisor. Khan fired back with a religious discrimination lawsuit, alleging that he had been discriminated against every time his boss looked askance at him when he took his approved prayer breaks.
The court tossed out his lawsuit. It concluded that by providing the breaks, the bank did what it was obligated to do. The supervisor’s attitude didn’t dissuade Khan from taking the breaks, and it didn’t amount to discipline. Plus, there was no apparent connection between the accommodation request and Khan’s poor performance and insubordination that led to his discharge. (Khan v. Bank of America, No. 1:06-CV-357, ND NY, 2008)
Final note: Not sure whether a religious accommodation request is legitimate? Consult the EEOC’s recently updated guidelines on religious discrimination: www.eeoc.gov/policy/docs/religion.html.