News & Insights

Respectful WorkplaceMarch 28, 2024by Todd StantonBusiness Owners Shouldn’t Pass-Over Religious Accommodations

Does allowing an employee to miss work or have an exception hurt the bottom line?

Thriving businesses understand putting people first leads to greater success. A people-first culture requires recognizing people have lives outside of work and there will be times productivity can’t always be your employees’ No. 1 priority. When productivity is your only goal, your employees become widgets instead of team members, a transaction instead of an investment, and in the end, turnover, burnout, and toxic environments will prevent you from ever reaching your end goal. Instead, building a business based on thriving team members has proven to improve tenure, experience, and in the end, your success. When it comes to viewing your people as more than their job, religious accommodations are part of the equation. Granted, you may have legal obligations to accommodate your employee’s religious beliefs, but there are many reasons why honoring someone’s request or exception is a win-win.

Indeed, there are plenty of legal reasons to explore the potential accommodation. In light of the recent U.S. Supreme Court’s clarification on the legality of refusing religious accommodations, the landscape has evolved. Before the updated ruling in Groff vs. DeJoy, employers could relatively easily point to a de minimis (i.e. a really minor) burden on its operations to deny an employee’s religious accommodation request. Pre-Groff, this burden had a broad definition, allowing employers to deny religious requests based on an interpretation of inconvenience rather than actual “undue hardship.” Following this ruling, employers must show that approving a person’s religious request would incur significant costs or expenses to their business.

With Easter, Eid al-Fitr, and Passover fast approaching, as well as religious holidays year-round to be aware of, business owners can ensure a legally compliant — and valued — workplace by:

  1. Establishing well-defined accommodation policies. Develop clear and comprehensive procedures tailored to your workplace. Clearly outline the steps for requesting accommodations and establish a confidential point of contact for employees to discuss their needs transparently.
  2. Conducting regular reviews of policies. Periodically review your accommodation policies to ensure they align with current legal requirements and the culture you’re hoping to create. Staying informed about changes in regulations and adapting policies accordingly helps create a workplace environment that remains compliant.
  3. Being flexible with scheduling. Recognize that religious observances often come with specific schedules. Offering flexibility allows employees to fulfill their religious obligations.
  4. Documenting, documenting, documenting. Ensure that you thoroughly document your analysis during the process and illustrate the reasoning behind your decision to approve or deny an employee’s religious accommodation request. This documentation could serve as crucial evidence in the event of an Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) charge or lawsuit arising from the denial of a religious accommodation.

In business ownership, considerations often need to be made on a case-by-case basis. If an employee’s religious request is reasonable, chances are you should grant it. In the event that you want to deny a request, connect with an experienced attorney before doing so to help you anticipate potential legal ramifications.

Our overall recommendation, though? Be human. If there’s one thing those AI robots don’t have on us, it’s the innate ability to empathize and understand where people are coming from. We were always taught to treat others the way we want to be treated, and the same goes for accommodating religious requests in the workplace.