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At least try to accommodate religious needs

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Employers can’t just ignore it if an employee asks for time off as a religious accommodation.

The better approach is to schedule the employee for work and wait for him to request time off for religious observances. Then carefully consider the request, and document your efforts and conclusions.

Remember, you can deny the request if it poses an undue burden on operations.

Recent case: Yabesh Maroko, who is a devout Seventh-day Adventist, was hired by Werner Enterprises as a truck driver.

Maroko explained up front that he couldn’t work from Friday sunset until sunset on Saturday. His religion required that as his day of rest. As he trained, he was assured that his needs could be accommodated.

After his training ended, he was assigned a truck, which he took home. Then he waited by the phone for assignments that never came. Maroko sent several faxes to HR explaining that he was ready to work, except on the Sabbath.

Finally, Werner took back the truck, without once scheduling him for any work, including work on his Sabbath.

Maroko sued, alleging failure to accommodate his religious practices.

The company argued he had abandoned his job. The only problem with that argument was that it had never assigned Maroko a schedule and given him a chance to either work or claim an accommodation. That was enough for the court to keep the lawsuit alive. (Maroko v. Werner Enterprises, No. 10-63, DC MN, 2011)

Final note: The judge hearing the case also said Maroko could pursue punitive damages because he might be able to persuade a jury that the company acted with deliberate disregard for his rights.

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