Worker must ask for religious accommodation

Employers are required to make reasonable accommodations for a worker’s religious practices, including letting workers skip shifts for religious holidays. But it is up to the worker to actually request the accommodation. Missing a shift without asking can be grounds for discharge.

Recent case: Mohammed had been a telephone salesperson for several years. When he was hired, he told his employer he was a practicing Muslim. Several of Mohammed’s sisters worked for the company, too.

Over the years, Mohammed and his sisters often asked for schedule adjustments to accommodate various religious holidays that did not always occur on the same day or month of the year. Every request for religious accommodation was approved.

Mohammed’s performance began to decline. His sales numbers plummeted and his supervisor began to complain that Mohammed was frequently late for work or missed shifts entirely.

Finally, when Mohammed didn’t show up for two evening shifts in a row, the supervisor sent him a text that said he was fired. That text cited the missed shifts, and stated, “I don’t want to hear it was your holiday either you could ask off days like your sister ….”

Mohammed sued, alleging failure to accommodate religious practices.

But the employer pointed out that Mohammed hadn’t asked for the time off and therefore hadn’t been denied a reasonable accommodation. The court agreed and tossed out the case. (Ileiwat v. Environmental Products International, ND TX, 2018)

Final note: It helped that the employer had approved all other time off requests for religious observations that Mohammed had made in the past, and that it was clear he hadn’t asked this time. While the text probably wasn’t the best way to terminate Mohammed, the court nonetheless concluded that the employer had honored its obligation to reasonably accommodate his religious observations.