EEOC believes in religious accommodation

Employers sometimes forget that in addition to offering reasonable accommodations for people with disabilities, they have a similar obligation to reasonably accommodate employees’ religious practices.

To arrive at a reasonable religious accommodation, Title VII of the Civil Rights Act requires using an interactive accommodations process just like the ADA does.

In one recent EEOC lawsuit, an accommodation provided to disabled workers should also have been provided to a new employee who needed similar flexibility to exercise the tenets of her faith.

Case in point: Yvonne, a Michigan woman who was about to begin a new job as a medical transcriptionist, informed Memorial Healthcare she had a religious objection to receiving a shot or nasal spray to prevent the seasonal flu. The health care provider had told her it was a work requirement.

Yvonne pointed out that she would be working from home, which presumably meant her decision to forego the vaccination couldn’t harm patients or co-workers. She also offered to wear a mask during training sessions. Memorial Healthcare already offered that accommodation to other employees who could not be vaccinated due to medical reasons.

But instead of making the religious accommodation, Memorial Healthcare rescinded Yvonne’s job offer. She complained to the EEOC, and a lawsuit is proceeding.

This is just the latest in a series of EEOC lawsuits and settlements over allegations that employers discriminated on the basis of religion. In just the last two months, the EEOC settled religious accommodation cases dealing with exceptions to a grooming policy, time off for religious observances and another case involving vaccinations. The complaints were filed by workers from Christian, Jewish and Muslim religious traditions.

Final note: Remember that Title VII prohibits discrimination based on religion, a term that is defined loosely. Religious beliefs, practices and observances include those that are traditionally theistic in nature, as well as moral or ethical beliefs about what is right and wrong that are sincerely held with the strength of traditional religious views.