Oct 25, 2013

By Eric B. Meyer

Today, we’re talking about religious accommodations.

In EEOC v. JBS USA, LLC, several Muslim employees at a meatpacking plant argued that their employer engaged in religious discrimination when it failed to allow them to take unscheduled prayer breaks.

Specifically, Muslim representatives told JBS that the Muslim employees “have to pray within 10 minutes of sunset and at the most 15 minutes after sunset.”

JBS responded that it could not relieve 200 employees within a 10-minute window because of safety and quality concerns created by such an accommodation.

What the employee must demonstrate

To establish religious discrimination for failure to accommodate, an employee must demonstrate that he or she:

  1. Has a bona fide religious belief that conflicts with an employment requirement;
  2. Informed the employer of this belief; and,
  3. Was disciplined for failing to comply with the conflicting requirement.

The burden then shifts to the employer to show that the requested accommodation would have caused it undue hardship. This can be shown in one of two ways: added cost to the employer or an imposition on co-workers.

What the court said

So, mass unscheduled prayer breaks? I’m thinking this may cause an undue hardship. Am I right, according to the United States District Court for the District of Nebraska?

The evidence demonstrates that this accommodation would have imposed more than a de minimis burden on JBS, as well as on co-workers…The evidence demonstrated that extra employee breaks could have an adverse effect on food safety. Safety concerns are highly relevant in determining whether a proposed accommodation would produce an undue hardship on the employer’s business….The evidence demonstrates that unscheduled breaks in the manner proposed by the Muslim employees also would have imposed more than a de minimis burden on non-Muslim co-workers. Such unscheduled breaks would have required a supervisor, lead worker, trainer, or coworker to fill in for the employee leaving the line. The substitute, therefore, would not be performing his or her own job while covering for the absent employee.”

Yes, while the threshold for establishing something more than a de minimis burden on the company or co-workers is rather low, just be careful about denying accommodations to one religion, while allowing them to another.

That’s an easy way to find yourself on not only the receiving end, but also the losing end of a religious discrimination lawsuit

This was originally published on Eric B. Meyer’s blog, The Employer Handbook.