Religion-based workplace complaints have more than doubled since 1997, according to an Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) statistic, with nearly 3,800 filed last year.
A recent Cleveland.com article said that many of the EEOC complaints from employees either involve wearing head garb or that companies refuse to accommodate requests for religious days off. The enforcement manager for the Cleveland EEOC field office, Cynthia Stankiewicz, said that employers aren’t always aware of employees’ religious rights and that they don’t always attempt to accommodate requests when they don’t pose a hardship on the business. She cited a case in the article where an employee at a fast-food restaurant was fired after only a day on the job because of claims that his head scarf was a fire hazard.
The EEOC says that the law requires employers to make reasonable accommodations for employees’ “sincerely held” religious beliefs so long as accommodating them would not cause the employer undue hardships. “In most cases,” Ms. Stankiewicz said, “employers don’t have a good valid job-related reason for religious discrimination. It’s often based on fears, myths and stereotypes.”
The article continued, saying that Stankiewicz also noted that an employer can turn down a request for a religious day off if it means training someone else at a substantial cost to the employer. Further, “employers are not required to pay premium or overtime costs in order to accommodate religious needs.”
The EEOC only steps in when an employer does not make reasonable allowances that do not put them in hardship, and only after first trying to reach a pre-litigation settlement with the employer.