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Jan 29, 2015

By Eric B. Meyer

Remember that blog post I had from July of last year, the one you contemplated getting tattooed on your back?

Yeah, you know the one — about the Fundamentalist Christian, who, upon filling out his new-employee paperwork, refused to provide a Social Security number because it would cause him to have the “Mark of the Beast.” He sought a religious accommodation, which the company refused to provide because obtaining a Social Security number is a federal requirement.

Well, the employee appealed the decision to a federal appellate court. How you think that one finally turned out?

No accommodation if it would violate federal law

In a published opinion (Yeager v. FirstEnergy Generation Corp.), the Cincinnati-based Sixth U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals agreed that the “district court properly dismissed [the plaintiff’s] complaint for failure to set forth a viable legal claim.”

Specifically, it noted that “every circuit to consider the issue has applied one of the above two steps to hold that Title VII does not require an employer to reasonably accommodate an employee’s religious beliefs if such accommodation would violate a federal statute.”

And since the IRS requires that employers collect and provide the Social Security numbers of their employees, the company did not have to accommodate the plaintiff’s sincerely held belief that providing a Social Security number would cause him to have the “Mark of the Beast.”

But, slow your roll there employers. There’s an important takeaway here beyond federal-statutory record-keeping requirements trumping the duty to accommodate.

Don’t casually dismiss accommodation requests

When an employee comes to you with a religious accommodation request, it’s best not to poo-poo the employee’s religious beliefs because they don’t conform to your idea of normal.

As Jon Hyman blogged about here earlier, one employer learned the hard way that, as long an employee’s beliefs are sincerely held, then the focus should be on whether there exists a reasonable accommodation for those beliefs.

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

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