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Accommodating Staff For Their Sincere Religious Beliefs

A Houston subsidiary of U.S. steel will pay $150,000 to settle a religious discrimination and retaliation lawsuit brought by the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC). The employer allegedly failed to accommodate the sincerely held religious beliefs of an applicant, as required by federal law.

According to the suit, in 2011, the employer gave a verbal offer of employment to an applicant for a utility technician position, conditioned upon the applicant passing a pre-employment drug test. The drug test required a hair follicle from the applicant. The applicant, who is a Nazirite Hebrew Israelite, said that his religion prohibits cutting hair from his scalp, but he offered to have hair pulled from his beard. Although beard hair would have worked, the employer sent him home without completing the drug test and refused to reschedule the test.

The applicant applied for other similar positions with the organization, but did not receive an offer. In fact, the employer cancelled an interview that it had scheduled with the applicant for one of the positions.

The EEOC alleges that the employer denied the applicant employment because of his religious beliefs and retaliated against him for requesting accommodation and opposing discrimination. "U.S. Steel Subsidiary to Pay $150,000 to Settle EEOC Religious Discrimination and Retaliation Suit," www.eeoc.gov (Apr. 10, 2017).


Commentary and Checklist

Federal law protects applicants and employees from discrimination, harassment, or retaliation in the workplace based on their sincerely held religious beliefs or lack thereof.

When considering applicants for hire and when working with staff, family employers must be sensitive to religious issues.

For example, making employment decisions because you like or do not like an applicant’s religious beliefs is illegal. Family employers should never ask applicants about their religious beliefs during the interview process. If an applicant or staff person shares his or her beliefs with you, do not discuss that information with other staff.

Here are some tips for family employers to prevent charges of religious discrimination:

  • Family employers may not treat staff or applicants more or less favorably because of their religious beliefs or practices, except to the extent a religious accommodation is warranted.
  • Family employers may not treat staff or applicants more or less favorably because of their religious beliefs or practices, except to the extent a religious accommodation is warranted.
  • Staff cannot be forced to participate, or not participate, in a religious activity as a condition of employment.
  • Staff cannot be forced to participate, or not participate, in a religious activity as a condition of employment.
  • Family employers must accommodate a staff person's religious beliefs and practices, unless doing so would impose a legitimate undue hardship on the employer.
  • Family employers must accommodate a staff person's religious beliefs and practices, unless doing so would impose a legitimate undue hardship on the employer.
  • Employers must permit staff to engage in religious expression, unless the religious expression would impose an undue hardship on the employer.
  • Employers must permit staff to engage in religious expression, unless the religious expression would impose an undue hardship on the employer.
  • Employers must take steps to prevent religious harassment of their staff. These steps may include discrimination prevention training, implementing an anti-harassment policy, and having an effective procedure for reporting, investigating, and correcting harassing or discriminatory conduct.
  • Employers must take steps to prevent religious harassment of their staff. These steps may include discrimination prevention training, implementing an anti-harassment policy, and having an effective procedure for reporting, investigating, and correcting harassing or discriminatory conduct.
  • If a staff person makes a request for accommodation based on religious beliefs and you feel it may cause a hardship, consult an attorney to determine to what extent accommodation is required.
  • If a staff person makes a request for accommodation based on religious beliefs and you feel it may case a hardship, consult an attorney to determine to what extent accommodation is required.
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