How would you handle a situation in which a male Muslim employee refused, on religious grounds, to shake hands with women? A recently released informal discussion letter from the federal Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) addresses exactly that situation and gives employers guidance on their religious accommodation obligations (EEOC Informal Discussion Letter, Title VII: Religious Discrimination Religious Accommodation Sex Discrimination, November 20, 2009). According to the EEOC, the focus should be on whether it would be an undue hardship for the employer to accommodate the employees religious practice of not shaking hands with women. Employers should not make assumptions about how the employees religious practice will affect the workplace (for example, its impact on coworkers and customers). Instead, it should make a fact-specific inquiry into the employees religious practice to see if it will actually infringe on the rights of coworkers or cause disruption at work. Under federal law, anything more than a minimal disruption is considered to be an undue hardship on the employer and therefore not a reasonable accommodation. (State law may be different, thoughfor example, Oregon defines undue hardship as significant difficulty or expense.) Need help with a religious accommodation issue? Check out our Legal Guide, Religious Accommodation in the Workplace (1147) or contact your Vigilant staff representative.
This website presents general information in nontechnical language. This information is not legal advice. Before applying this information to a specific management decision, consult Vigilant or legal counsel.