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Reject accommodation requests that harm business relationships

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in Firing,Human Resources,Office Communication,Workplace Communication

Elizabeth Anderson, an office worker for a shipping firm, regularly ended her conversations and written communications with customers with the words, "Have a blessed day."

After her employer got a few complaints about the phrase from its largest customer, it asked Anderson to stop using this sign-off message. She refused. She kept using it with customers, even after being warned that it could lead to her firing.

The company also issued a policy to all employees forbidding them to add religious, personal or political statements in their closing remarks to customers, although it allowed Anderson to use her pet phrase with her co-workers.

Anderson sued, claiming Title VII failure to accommodate her religious practice. But the courts shot down her claim, saying the company made a reasonable effort to accommodate Anderson by letting her use the phrase with co-workers but not with a big customer who was offended by it. This "selective enforcement," said the court, was a perfectly reasonable way to accommodate her wishes.

Court's reasoning: Using the phrase wasn't a requirement of the employee's religion, and she wasn't harmed by the company's restrictions. She was never fired or demoted, only reprimanded for failure to follow company orders.

The key: The company wasn't denigrating Anderson's religious beliefs. It was only concerned about its relationships with customers. (Anderson v. USF Logistics (IMC) Inc., 7th Cir., No. 01-1486, 2001)

Advice: If you have a clear business reason for denying an accommodation request, enforce your decision without fear. A reasonable religious accommodation is one that eliminates the conflict between employment requirements and actual religious beliefs or practices without causing "undue hardship" to your business.

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