Religious accommodation is a major issue within the federal workplace. Consequently, clients frequently ask, Can a federal employer deny my religious accommodation request?
The simple answer to this question is yes; federal employers can deny religious accommodation requests. However, they cannot do so for an arbitrary or random reason. Instead, they must meet a certain legal standard before rejecting a religious accommodation request.
In this article, our accommodation lawyers cover the legal standard for refusing a religious accommodation request, and we’ll touch on what you can do when your religious accommodation request gets denied.
What Is the Current Federal Religious Accommodation Policy?
Thanks to the recent unanimous Supreme Court decision in the case Groff v. U.S. Postal Service, it is now more difficult for employers to deny a request for religious accommodations.
Prior to this decision, courts applied the de minimis standard. Practically, this meant that the law was on the side of the employer, and the employee generally faced an uphill battle to vindicate their religious rights.
However, in Groff, the Supreme Court decided that the de minimis standard was not the correct standard for evaluating religious accommodation requests.
Instead, it mandated that employers show that the request would cause “substantially increased costs in relation to the conduct of the employer’s business.” In effect, this new precedent makes it harder for employers to refuse religious accommodation requests and easier for employees to prevail.
While some people have criticized the Court for not taking on the case law and mirroring the Disability Related Federal case law we still believe the Court has made a clear statement that the Courts must take a much stronger stand than the previous de minimis standard, something more akin to the disability undue hardship standard. Of course, this all remains to be seen as it plays out in the courts…
Examples of Wrongful Religious Accommodation Denials
It can be difficult to visualize real-world situations of wrongful religious accommodation denials. But let’s look at two possible scenarios.
Example #1: Carlos’s Religious Holiday
Carlos is a practicing Catholic working for the Department of the Treasury.
Earlier this year, he requested a day off to observe Good Friday. When his employer expressed reluctance, Carlos offered to make up the time on another day and find someone to cover his shift.
However, his boss denied his request, expressing the belief that Good Friday “really shouldn’t be that important for anyone.”
Example #2: Rachel’s Dietary Request
Rachel is an Orthodox Jew who works as an attorney for the Securities and Exchange Commission.
Last month, her office held a week-long in-house conference with catered food. The week before the conference, Rachel found out there were no kosher meal options, so she requested one.
However, her employer refused, even after Rachel offered to bring in her own kosher food at her own expense.
These are just two hypothetical examples. However, religious accommodation denials can come in endless shapes and sizes.
What Can I Do When My Employer Refuses My Religious Accommodation Request?
Thanks to Groff, employees now have a fighting chance when it comes to religious accommodation requests. However, many federal employers may continue to follow the old legal standard and wrongfully deny your religious accommodation request.
If you’ve received a refusal on your religious accommodation request, the following steps should help.
- Understand your rights. At the heart of this issue is Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964. As stated by the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC), employers cannot discriminate against employees based on their religious beliefs, and they must accommodate an employee’s religious practices unless it would pose an undue hardship on their operations.
- Maintain a detailed record. From the moment you anticipate needing a religious accommodation, document every related interaction. This means keeping a log of verbal discussions, saving emails, and having written proof of the accommodation request.
- Seek expert legal counsel. If you believe your employer is infringing on your religious rights, consult with a qualified employment attorney. They can provide clarity on the nuances of your situation, recommend an action plan, and guide you on potential legal remedies.
- Lodge a formal complaint. If you believe there’s evidence of discrimination or wrongful failure to grant your request, consider filing a complaint with the EEOC. They will conduct an independent investigation and penalize your employer if they find a violation.
Remember, religious accommodation is your legal right, not a privilege or perk. The only way an employer can deny that request is if they show that granting your request will be a significant cost to them.
Has Your Religious Accommodation Request Been Denied?
If you think that your employer has unjustly denied your religious accommodation request, take action to defend your rights. In addition, contact strong legal counsel to get the representation you deserve.
Here at Pines Federal, our seasoned legal practitioners understand the intricate interplay of federal employment law and religious rights.
In addition, they are up-to-date on the latest developments within the world of religious accommodation. Allow our seasoned team to guide you through the process so that your employer hears your voice and honors your rights. Don’t wait.