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When employee’s religion conflicts with duties, explore reasonable accommodations

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in Discrimination and Harassment,Human Resources

Religion in the workplace is becoming a hot-button issue. More and more, employees claiming deeply held religious beliefs are refusing to perform parts of their jobs they believe conflict with their faith. Offering a reasonable accommodation is the best approach.

Recent case: Marcia Walden worked as a counselor for a private company that had a contract with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) to provide help through its employee assistance program.

Walden had an initial session with a lesbian CDC employee who sought relationship counseling after her partner made questionable financial decisions. That made Walden uncomfortable. Her evangelical Christian religious beliefs, she later claimed, prevented her from counseling same-sex couples. She felt homosexual relationships were against her religious beliefs.

How Walden handled the situation became the basis for her eventual lawsuit. Walden told the woman that her personal beliefs prevented her from offering help, but she could refer her to another counselor. The woman became upset and complained.

Walden’s supervisor then discussed the problem with Walden and suggested that she simply tell the next homosexual employee seeking help that she wasn’t experienced in couples counseling. Walden refused, claiming that was not true. She was then removed from the contract.

Walden sued, alleging failure to accommodate her religious beliefs and practices.

The court threw out her claim, reasoning that the employer had in fact offered a reasonable accommodation. (Walden v. CDC, No. 10-11733, 11th Cir., 2012)

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