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Here at Miletti Law®, we consider ourselves the authoritative force in Employment and Labor Law. Therefore, we are committed to the continued updating of our series on employment & labor law with fresh, verifiable, and credible content. In that spirit, this blog is Part VII of our series on “Religious Accommodation Requirements.” We have been, since Part I of this series, talking about the obligation of the employer to provide the employee or applicant with a reasonable accommodation. However, Title VII does not require the employer to provide accommodation that imposes an undue hardship on the employer’s business operations. The concept of undue hardship was defined and explored in Part VII of this series, which is accessible at https://milettilaw.com/blog/f/what-is-undue-hardship-in-religious-accommodation. Accordingly, while running on the same track, this blog is Part VII and a discussion of some examples and types of undue hardships that may be faced by an employer. Two of these undue hardships, including safety concerns and impact on workers, have been discussed in this blog.
When assessing whether a proposed accommodation imposes an undue hardship, employers may need to consider safety concerns, on the part of the employer and employee or other employees. In order to accommodate a person’s religious convictions or beliefs, employers should not overlook safety concerns. As evident in the following two cases, courts seem to rule in favor of employers as long as the employer has a legitimate reason entailing safety concerns.
- In the case Bhatia v. Chevron U.S.A., Inc., 734 F.2d 1382, 1384 (9th Cir. 1984), the court held that the employer did not violate Title VII for refusing to provide a Sikh employee with a religious accommodation that would exempt the Sikh from a policy that required all machinists to be clean shaven so as to wear a gas-tight face seal respirator, which would protect employees from being exposed to toxic gases.
- In Kalsi v. New York City Transit Authority, 62 F. Supp. 2d 745, 759-60 (E.D.N.Y. 1998), the court found that an undue hardship would result from (1) the potential cost of employee exemption and (2) the risk of injury to the employee in this case where, due to the risk of injury and liability, a municipal agency failed to provide a Sikh employee with an accommodation that would exempt the employee from hardhat requirement.
Impact on Co-workers
As an undue hardship, the impact of an accommodation on co-workers occurs in two ways, including (1) disruption to co-workers and (2) collective bargaining arrangements and seniority systems.
- Disruption to Co-workers – If providing an employee with a religious accommodation causes a disruption to the employee’s co-workers, then such an accommodation imposes an undue hardship. In the case Wilson v. U.S. W. Commc’ns, 58 F.3d 1337 (8th Cir. 1995), the court ruled that the employer did not have to accommodate an employee who, due to her religious beliefs, wanted to wear a graphic anti-abortion pin that upset her co-workers and led to the decline of productivity of the co-workers. In a similar case, Brener v. Diagnostic Ctr. Hosp., 671 F.2d 141, 147 (5th Cir. 1982), the court found that an accommodation that disrupts work routines and negatively affects co-workers’ morale due to the perceived favorable treatment imposes an undue hardship by requiring co-workers to cover an employee’s shifts.
- Collective Bargaining Arrangements and Seniority Systems – The cost an employer incurs due to an accommodation is a lesser factor of concern as compared to an accommodation’s impact on the co-workers of an individual. It has been made clear by the Supreme Court that if another employee is deprived of a job benefit or preference because of an accommodation provided to one employee, then such an accommodation imposes an undue hardship. An accommodation imposes an undue hardship if it requires an employer to carve out exception to seniority system, as ruled in the case TWA v. Hardison, 432 U.S. 63, 84 (1977). When accommodating a person’s religious beliefs, Title VII does not require employers to make exemptions to collectively bargained arrangements or seniority systems.
In Part IX of this series, we will move the discussion forward and hammer on “Uniform and Dress Code Policies,” which is another form and type of undue hardship that may be imposed by an accommodation provided to accommodate an employee’s religious beliefs.
Until then, stay tuned for more legal guidance, training, and counsel. In the interim, reach us with questions or comments on our website at the Contact Us page!
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