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Working miracles isn’t part of accommodation process

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in Discrimination and Harassment,Employment Law,Firing,Human Resources

Louis Cosme applied for a promotion at the Postal Service even though he knew it would require him to work on some Saturdays, the day that he observed the Sabbath through his church, the Worldwide Church of God. He got the job but refused to work on Saturdays.

After being disciplined for skipping his Saturday shifts and being threatened with firing, he agreed to an arrangement that let him work different days in different branches with no Saturday hours. Cosme's manager said she offered him three other positions that would allow for a fixed Saturday off, but he rejected the jobs because he'd lose 90 days of seniority.

Everything seemed settled until Cosme applied for a promotion to a postal inspector position. He was denied due, in part, to two driving violations and his failure to report to work on numerous Saturdays. He sued, charging religious discrimination.

An appeals court ruled for the Postal Service, saying the accommodation efforts were reasonable and they eliminated the Saturday conflict. Plus, the court didn't buy Cosme's claim that he would have lost significant seniority if he took the other job offers. This employee was properly disciplined, the court said, and his record was a justifiable consideration in the decision not to promote him. (Cosme v. Henderson, U.S. Postmaster General, No. 01-6032, 2nd Cir., 2002)

Advice: Once you've been notified that an employee has a genuine religious practice that conflicts with a job requirement, Title VII requires you to offer a timely and reasonable accommodation, unless doing so would result in an undue hardship to the business. In creating the accommodation, the court wants to see an interactive give-and-take with the employee, which the Postal Service in this case clearly did.

You don't always have to offer the accommodation that the employee prefers. If you come up with a reasonable accommodation, and the employee rejects it, he can't protect himself from disciplinary action, and your job is done.

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