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When religious accommodation costs too much

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in Discrimination and Harassment,Human Resources

Employees who must miss work because of religious restrictions are entitled to reasonable accommodations—unless it would cause undue hardship for their employer.

While employers must look for sensible solutions, that doesn’t mean they have to redesign their workforce, buy additional equipment or otherwise change the way they do business if it would be too expensive or cumbersome.

Recent case: Banaya worked as a truck driver for a construction company that provides road-building services for North Carolina state transportation projects. Because such work is weather-sensitive, the company sometimes had to schedule Saturday hours to make up for lost time during the week.

The company has its own fleet of trucks and drivers, but when someone misses work, it has to hire drivers with their own trucks at a much higher cost.

Banaya adheres to the Hebrew Israelite faith, which requires him to perform no work from sunrise to sunset on Saturdays. He told his supervisor about the restriction when he was hired.

Soon after starting, he learned he would have to work the coming Saturday. He refused, citing his religious needs. He wasn’t disciplined because the job was small enough that the company didn’t have to hire a sub.

The same thing happened the following week, but this time the company had to hire a replacement. Banaya was warned he would be terminated the next time he missed a Saturday.

Indeed, he was fired the next scheduled Saturday shift he refused to work.

The EEOC sued on Banaya’s behalf, arguing that the company should have hired more drivers. The court disagreed, pointing out that every time Banaya refused to work a Saturday, the company incurred a large replacement cost. It ruled in the employer’s favor. (EEOC v. Thompson Contracting, No. 11-1897, 4th Cir., 2012)

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