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Some Sundays off doesn’t require giving every Sunday off

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in Discrimination and Harassment,Employment Law,Human Resources

No doubt you know that you have to make reasonable accommodations for employees' religious practices. But how much accommodation must you offer, and must you apply it all the time across the board? If someone says they must attend religious services every Sunday, can you discourage him from taking a job because you can’t guarantee he’ll be off every week? Can you then offer other employees occasional Sundays off without ending up in legal hot water?

Yes, you can—within reason. Just be prepared to explain why occasional Sundays off is reasonable, while every Sunday off is not feasible for a business such as yours.

Recent case: Jeffrey Johnson, who worked for Wheeling Steel Corp., needed Sundays off to perform his duties as a deacon in his church. He alleged that he was discriminated against because a supervisor who was reorganizing the workforce discouraged him from taking a position his seniority would have qualified him for. The alleged reason: The position had Tuesdays and Wednesdays as the designated days off.

The company then gave the job to another employee who sometimes got his schedule changed so he was off on the regular weekend. Johnson sued, alleging, among other claims, religious discrimination.

The court dismissed that claim, reasoning that just because the employee who got the job was off some weekends didn’t mean Johnson was discriminated against because of his religious needs. After all, the court wrote, the other employee worked most Sundays, something Johnson’s religious obligations didn’t allow. (Johnson v. Wheeling Steel Corp., No. 07-1015, 4th Cir., 2008)

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