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Don’t assume you can’t accommodate workers’ religious objections

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in Human Resources

When a manager checked Hillel Hellinger's references for a pharmacy job, a former supervisor told the manager that Hellinger, an Orthodox Jew, refused to sell condoms in his previous job.

Hellinger hadn't listed any religious restrictions or requested an accommodation when he applied for the part-time job, but the manager decided not to pursue his application. Now the drug store chain has to convince a court that it didn't discriminate against him.

A worker or applicant claiming that an employer failed to accommodate religion must prove three things: he has a bona fide belief that conflicts with a job requirement, he told the boss about the conflict and he was discharged or not hired for failing to comply with the requirement.

Here, the company argued that Hellinger never told the manager about his beliefs, but a court said the information could come from somewhere other than from Hellinger himself. (Hellinger v. Eckerd Corp., No. 98-0075, S.D. Fla., 1999)

Advice: Knowing about an employee's religious beliefs doesn't always put you on notice of the need to accommodate, but it will if there's a conflict between those practices and your job requirements. This court emphasized that it isn't putting the burden on employers to ask about religion. But when you learn of a religious issue, the burden is on you to show that you can't offer an accommodation.

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