Religious Accommodation in the Workplace
By Sarah Breger
For religiously observant employees, the decision to “rock the boat” in the workplace is a tricky one. If you keep Hallal should you go the steakhouse with your co-workers or explain why you can’t? If you are Sabbath observant, how early do you leave on a Friday to get home before sundown, and is it worth your co-workers thinking you are slacking off?
While these may seem like small issues, as members of different religions practice more openly, employers are being asked—and sometimes forced—to accommodate their religious employees. In an article published in The National Law Journal, Sheeva Ghassemiow examines different cases where employers have been confronted with the practice of Islam and the challenges it presents in the workplace.
In one case, Alamo fired a Muslim employee for wearing a head covering at work during Ramadan. When she brought suit, the company claimed “undue hardship” arguing (like my 5th grade English teacher) if they make one dress code exception for her they would have to it for everyone. Fortunately, the court did not agree with that middle school logic.
In another case a Muslim employee at a health facility was fired after she was found performing ablutions in an empty patient’s room. The employee argued that she had tried to perform ablutions in the public restrooms but the sinks were too high for her feet. In this case, the court ruled that the facility should have provided her with a place to wash her feet according to her religious needs.
However there are some limits to accommodation. Like not touching pork at a pork production plant:
In Al-Jabery v. ConAgra Foods Inc., 2007 U.S. Dist. Lexis 79080 (D. Neb. Oct. 24, 2007), Muslim employee Naim H. Al-Jabery protested on religious ground his being transferred to the pork-production line of a ham-processing plant.
Al-Jabery sued ConAgra for discrimination on the basis of religion and national origin under Title VII. The court held that ConAgra would suffer undue hardship if it attempted to accommodate Al-Jabery’s request.
Or as the judge summed up “Plainly put, a ham plant cannot be efficiently run by catering to the idiosyncratic desires of a Muslim worker not to touch the plant’s main product.”
Although this article focuses on Islam, Jews and Christians (as well as Hindus, Sikhs) face similar issues as well. As religious expression becomes more acceptable in the workplace, it will be interesting to see how the law finds ways to accommodate it.