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Shift swapping reasonably accommodates religious days off

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in Discrimination and Harassment,Employment Law,Human Resources

Employees with deeply held religious beliefs are entitled to reasonable accommodations of those religious needs, including possible time off to worship.

Since some religions require not just attending religious services, but also refraining from working on the Sabbath day, some employees may not be able to come to work on a Friday, Saturday or Sunday (depending on the religion or denomination to which the employee belongs).

But many other employees also may want those days off for nonreligious reasons. That leaves employers to deal with unhappy and resentful employees, who see their co-workers getting what they perceive as special privileges.

Employers can manage religious needs without simply exempting religious employees from weekend work. Here’s how: Simply design a system that rotates shifts so everyone gets a turn for weekend days off; then tell those seeking religious accommodations it’s up to them to arrange shift swaps.

As the following case shows, having such a system is a reasonable accommodation under Title VII’s religious discrimination clause—even if it means the employee won’t always find someone with whom to swap shifts.

Recent case: Cynthia Morrissette-Brown worked as a nursing assistant at a medical center, but quickly found that the job interfered with her deep religious convictions as a Seventh-day Adventist.

Her religion prohibited her from working 3 to 11 pm on any Friday or Saturday.

She met with her supervisors, who told her that she could try to switch shifts with other nursing assistants. Over the next few months, she sometimes swapped shifts, and other times simply didn’t show up for work. Eventually, she was offered a part-time nursing assistant job that did not require her to work Fridays or Saturdays. She declined the offer and sued for religious discrimination.

The 11th Circuit Court of Appeals threw out her case. It ruled that the shift swap plan was a reasonable accommodation, even if it was not perfect. Plus, placing the burden on the employee was not illegal. The court also said that offering the part-time position was reasonable, even though it meant less pay. (Morrissette-Brown v. Mobile Infirmary Medical Center, No. 06-14082, 11th Cir., 2007)

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