We previously began looking at employers’ duty to make religious accommodations in the workplace. As we noted, employers are obligated to provide accommodations to employees so that they may meet religious obligations. The duty to provide religious accommodations is not absolute, though. Employers are not required to commit to accommodations that would be an undue hardship for them.
One of the current issues in religious accommodations in the workplace is prayer breaks for adherents of the religion of Islam. Many employers are struggling with this issue. For example, Cargill recently received an unfavorable decision in which the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission found reasonable cause that the company violated federal law in denying Muslim employees prayer breaks.
Cargill had reportedly terminated a number of Somali-American employees in 2015 after denying them prayer breaks. The Islamic faith requires adherents to prayer five times per day. The length of time it takes to complete each prayer time varies. After finding reasonable cause that Cargill violated federal law, the EEOC and the company will now proceed to the next step of coming up with a resolution to the case. If no settlement can be reached, the EEOC may sue the company in federal court.
For employers, it isn’t always easy to determine what is required in order to meet the undue hardship standard. Because the standard is one of reasonableness, it requires examining all the circumstances of the case and making the most balanced decision possible. Reasonable people can disagree, and so it is natural that disputes will arise. Employers need to be aware of precedent-setting cases and take effective steps to minimize liabilities in this area. Working with experienced legal counsel helps ensure a business’ interests in this area are protected.