How’s Your Small Business Handling Religious Accommodation?

If you’re like most employers, you’re likely required to comply with equal employment opportunity (EEO) responsibilities. One responsibility you may have is granting reasonable accommodations to employees with medical issues or disabilities.

Along with accommodating employees’ medical needs, you might also need to give them religious accommodations. Read on to learn the answer to what is religious accommodation and how you can comply.

What is a religious accommodation?

Before we dive into religious accommodations, you need to learn more about the Civil Rights Act of 1964. Title VII of the act prohibits employers from discriminating against applicants and workers due to their religion. This includes refusing to accommodate an employee’s religious beliefs or practices.

Title VII considers the following as types of religion:

  • Christianity
  • Judaism
  • Islam
  • Hinduism
  • Buddhism
  • Other traditional, organized religions
  • New, uncommon, or informal religious beliefs

Social, political, economic philosophies, or personal preferences aren’t considered to be religious beliefs under Title VII.

A religious accommodation is like a reasonable accommodation for religion. Religious accommodations are any adjustments employers make to the work environment that allows an applicant or employee to practice their religion.

So, what are common religious accommodations in the workplace? Some examples of religious accommodations may include:

  • Exception to the company’s grooming or dress code policy (e.g., headscarf)
  • Schedule change due to a religious holiday (e.g., Good Friday)
  • Unpaid leave to attend a religious ritual or ceremony
  • Specific break schedules for prayer
  • Changes in shifts to attend religious commitments

The Civil Rights Act of 1964 requires businesses to reasonably accommodate the religious beliefs or practices of employees or applicants unless it imposes an undue hardship on the business.

A company may refuse to accommodate an individual’s religious beliefs or practices if they can demonstrate that the accommodation would cause an undue hardship on the business.

An undue hardship is more than a minimal burden on a business. Some undue hardships include jeopardizing security, violating a seniority system, and causing a lack of necessary staffing.

Employers with at least 15 employees must follow EEO laws and offer religious accommodation to employees.

Religious accommodation policy

If you’re required to offer reasonable accommodation religion to an applicant or employee for their religion, you should have a policy in place to keep things fair and square.

Depending on your business and the number of employees you have, you might need to have a more in-depth religious accommodation policy. If your business is smaller, you might consider having a more lax procedure for religious accommodations.

Here are a few things you should consider including in your religious accommodation policy:

  1. Policy rules and requirements
  2. How to submit a religious accommodation request
  3. Procedure for reviewing requests

In your policy, outline rules about workplace religious accommodation. Consider creating a statement that includes descriptions of the laws your business follows as well as definitions relating to religious accommodation (e.g., undue hardships).

Along with listing your business’s rules, you should also give examples of different types of accommodations you’re willing to give employees in certain scenarios. For example, if an employee’s religion requires them not to shave but your company’s protocol is to have a clean-shaven face, you can accommodate the worker’s needs by having them wear a hairnet while working.

Your policy should also give employees insight on how to turn in a religious accommodation request. Be sure to include who the employee needs to submit their requests to (e.g., manager or supervisor). If the request deals with missing work or switching shifts, make sure you include a deadline so employees know when to turn in requests by.

If you don’t understand a request, get clarification about the request from your employee. And, discuss their religious needs and accommodation options.

In your policy, include how you plan on prioritizing multiple requests. And, explain the turnaround time for reviewing religious accommodation requests. That way, employees have an idea of when they’ll hear back from you with a solution.

3 Tips for handling religious accommodations

It’s important to accommodate the religious needs of all of your employees as well as treat their requests equally and fairly. To stay as compliant as possible, use the three tips below when handling religious accommodations.

3 tips for handling religious accommodations

1. Understand the religious accommodation law

First and foremost, you should brush up on the EEOC’s laws before you handle religious accommodations at your business.

Make sure to research your employer responsibilities as well as who the laws protect.

Check out the EEOC’s website for more information on workplace religious accommodations.

2. Don’t single out employees

As an employer, you cannot discriminate against an employee because of their religious beliefs (along with race, age, sex, etc.).

If you plan on having a religious accommodation policy at your business, be sure you don’t single out employees or treat them differently if they submit a religious accommodation request.

Discriminating against applicants or employees is not only illegal, but it can also hurt your employer brand and employee retention.

3. Be flexible

When it comes to your policy on religious accommodation, try to be as flexible as possible.

Keep in mind that a reasonable accommodation for one employee may not be reasonable for another. Differences in job duties, departments, shifts, and other factors can impact what does and doesn’t work as an accommodation for an employee.

If an accommodation doesn’t work for an employee, consider offering them a few other alternatives. Work with employees to find an accommodation that will make everyone happy.

Need a secure way to share your policies with employees? Patriot’s HR software add on to our payroll software lets you easily upload and organize important employee documents. Try both for free today!

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This is not intended as legal advice; for more information, please click here.

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