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When religion causes a problem—or three—show why accommodating is a hardship

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

Sometimes, employees claim protection from religious discrimination based on very unconventional beliefs. No matter how unusual, employers must reasonably accommodate those beliefs unless doing so causes an undue hardship.

Employers should be prepared to show why it would be a hardship before terminating the employee.

Recent case: Gary Lizalek accepted a job with Invivo Corp. and then informed the company that he understood himself to be three separate beings. This, he claimed, was a matter of faith.

One of the beings that made up Lizalek was “a trust created by the Social Security Administration” to generate assets for the government. The second being was a trustee for the first being. The third being was a steward “who lends consciousness and physical ability” to the trust.

The employer asked him to stick with one identity, but Lizalek refused. That was a problem because his correspondence confused customers and co-workers—he frequently shifted identities when writing. Management tried to work with Lizalek, but eventually gave up and fired him. The company said it could not accommodate his religious needs.

He sued for religious discrimination, but the court concluded the company was within its rights to expect Lizalek to stick with a single identity. It dismissed the case, saying that accommodating the three-being concept was an undue hardship.
(Lizalek v. Invivo, No. 08-3626, 7th Cir., 2009)

Final note: The employer played this correctly. Instead of challenging the “religion,” it showed how it would simply be a hardship to accommodate the employee’s belief system.

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