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Religious Reasonable Accommodation

by The Human Equation, Inc. on 7/31/2008
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One of my employees asked for time off to attend Samhain Sabbat, an important Wiccan festival. Given that the employee's beliefs are sincerely held, does Title VII of the Civil Rights Act require me to make a reasonable accommodation for a so-called non-traditional religion such as this?

Yes. Title VII of the Civil Rights Act (Title VII), which generally applies to employers with 15 or more employees, requires an employer, once on notice, to reasonably accommodate an employee's sincerely held religious belief, practice, or observance that conflicts with a work requirement, unless providing the accommodation would create an undue hardship on the employer. Title VII defines religion to include "all aspects of religious observance and practice, as well as belief." The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) has interpreted the definition of religion to include not only traditional organized religions such as Christianity, Judaism, Islam, Hinduism, and Buddhism, but also religious beliefs that are new, uncommon, not part of a formal church or sect, subscribed to only by a small number of people, or that seem illogical or unreasonable to others. According to the EEOC, a belief is "religious" for Title VII purposes if it is religious in the person's own scheme of things, "i.e., it is a sincere and meaningful belief that occupies in the life of its possessor a place parallel to that filled by...God."

Under this interpretation, employers cannot routinely dismiss requests for religious accommodations simply because the employer does not recognize the proffered belief as a religion. Doing so would violate Title VII's prohibition against discrimination on the basis of religion, which protects the sincerely held religious beliefs of the employee, not the employer.

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