Most of the time, the need for providing a religious accommodation is obvious. An employee will submit a religious exemption request, and the employer will engage in the interactive process with the employee to determine what accommodation will appropriately address the employee’s religious needs. However, there are times where the need for a religious accommodation is obvious and reoccurring, placing the employer on notice of the need for the accommodation.
A similar, albeit extreme, example of this occurred recently at a Canton high school. A student on the high school’s football team missed a practice and upon his return was forced to eat a pepperoni pizza while his teammates ran laps around him. However, the student had a religious opposition to pork, as he was a member of the Hebrew Israelite faith, which was known to the coaches who previously provided the student non-pork dietary options. The coaches allegedly removed the actual pieces of pepperoni, but the pork residue remained. Following the incident, the student and his family sued. The lawsuit is currently ongoing.
This is an extreme example of a failure to accommodate but serves as an example of where an individual has previously requested a religious exemption, the employer is on notice of the need for that accommodation in the future and may be at fault if the employee is later required to forgo the accommodation. Overall, employers should have well-defined policies for requesting and providing religious accommodations. Such procedures should be enforced in a consistent and non-discriminatory manner. Employers should be aware of when religious accommodations are granted, to whom, and under what conditions. That way employers can keep disparate treatment and failure to accommodate claims to a minimum.
The attorneys at Fishel Downey regularly advise employers on issues related to religious accommodations in the workplace. If you have a specific question or scenario, and would like assistance, contact one of the attorneys at Fishel Downey Albrecht & Riepenhoff LLP at 614-221-1216.