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Not all religious accommodations are mandatory

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in Human Resources

Employers aren’t obligated to honor religious accommodation requests if doing so would significantly hamper operations or inconvenience co-workers.

For example, accommodating a request for every Sabbath day off could effectively invalidate a collective-bargaining seniority system and create a real hardship for the other employees who would have to work instead.

Recent case: Hosea Harrell took a full-time job as a letter carrier with the U.S. Postal Service. Because the post office delivers mail six days a week, employees typically don’t have every weekend off. In fact, at Harrell’s location, there were seven full-time letter carriers and three part-time carriers. Only the most senior full-time carrier worked Monday through Friday. The rest rotated their shifts so they had a Saturday off about every six weeks.

Soon after starting, Harrell said he was a Seventh-day Adventist who was not allowed to work from sunset on Friday to sunset on Saturday. He requested every Saturday off as an accommodation.

His supervisors informed him that it would be impossible to accommodate the request because a union contract dictated who got Saturday off by seniority, and Harrell had the least seniority. Instead, he was offered part of the day off to attend church services.

He declined and kept asking for Saturdays off every week. When his request was rejected each time, he simply didn’t show up. The post office fired him.

Harrell sued, alleging failure to accommodate.

The post office argued the accommodation would be a hardship, given the union contract, and said it would be unfair to Harrell’s co-workers, who would be bypassed for preferred days off by the most junior employee.

The court agreed there was undue hardship for both employer and co-workers and dismissed the case. (Harrell v. Donahue, No. 10-1694, 8th Cir., 2011)

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