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Simple accommodation efforts can avoid major headaches

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in Discrimination and Harassment,Firing,Human Resources,Leaders & Managers,Performance Reviews

Cathy Collings wanted to fire one of her employees, a state social worker, because he refused to license homosexuals as foster parents. The worker said that his religious beliefs prevented it.

Collings recommended the firing as part of her four-page draft performance evaluation. The employee requested a transfer and eventually sued Collings for religious discrimination. A jury awarded the employee $26,500 in compensatory and punitive damages. (Phillips v. Collings, No. 00-2176, 8th Cir., 2001)

Advice: When you bump up against a worker's religious objections, your first thought should be to work around the problem, not force the employee to change. In this case, the court noted, accommodating the worker would have been relatively easy because licensing homosexuals as foster parents was rare, and other social workers could handle those cases.

Also, a poor performance evaluation alone usually doesn't equal an adverse employment action, but it can be an important part of the picture. Collings recommended firing the employee in part because of his religious beliefs, and although the final evaluation only said he needed improvement, it had mushroomed to 53 pages of criticism.

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