My employee just asked to be removed from the schedule for Sundays so she can attend church, and requested to work Saturdays instead. Could I compromise and give her every other Sunday off or schedule her for Thursdays instead of her requested Saturdays, or do I have to honor her request exactly as made? May I ask for a note from her pastor that she really does attend church?
Employers must reasonably accommodate their employees’ religious beliefs, including making changes in their work schedules, unless doing so would cause an undue hardship.
If there is more than one reasonable accommodation that would meet the employee’s religious needs, the employer is not obligated to provide the exact accommodation requested by the employee.
In this case, the employer could offer the option of working every other Sunday only if it could show it would be an undue hardship to give this employee every Sunday off. This will be determined by looking at all the circumstances, including whether there are enough employees who could be scheduled for Sundays.
Although other employees may also prefer to have Sundays off for nonreligious reasons, the employee who has a religious reason will take priority. This generally is true even if other employees have more seniority, or have not worked Sundays in the past and/or do not want to work on Sundays.
Since offering only every other Sunday off does not fully eliminate the religious conflict, it would not be considered reasonable unless the employer could show the business would suffer an undue hardship. This might be the case if so many employees wanted Sunday off for religious reasons that the business would not be able to stay open on Sundays.
The employer could offer to accommodate the employee by scheduling her for Thursdays instead of the Saturdays she had requested.
While the employee might not want to work Thursdays because she takes a college class or does not have daycare for her children that day, the employer is not required to grant the employee’s preferred change of schedule so long as the schedule change granted reasonably accommodates the religious need.
Verification of Religious Beliefs
Where an employer has bona fide doubt about the need for an accommodation or the sincerity of the employee’s religious belief, the employer may ask the employee for information to address the employer’s doubts.
Federal guidelines indicate, however, that an employee’s own explanation of the religious belief may be sufficient so that written verification from a third party, such as the employee’s pastor (or other religious leader) would not be necessary.
Requesting unnecessary evidence could subject the employer to claims of denial of reasonable accommodation, as well as retaliation and harassment.
The Labor Law Helpline is a service to California Chamber of Commerce preferred and executive members. For expert explanations of labor laws and Cal/OSHA regulations, not legal counsel for specific situations, call (800) 348-2262 or submit your question at www.hrcalifornia.com.