Many HR professionals come into contact with a religious accommodation at one point in time. Our worst fear is to handle it the wrong way and end up in a lawsuit. A recent court case involving two individuals who were terminated for not delivering alcohol because of religious beliefs was determined in their favor. After taking a close look at this case from just the details given in the following article, it is surely of great concern since the government intervened on the outcome. Here is a link to the article on Fox News: http://insider.foxnews.com/2015/10/26/muslim-truck-drivers-fired-not-delivering-beer-jury-awards-them-240k.
The first question I have is if the job exists only to deliver alcoholic beverages? I would have to say this job sounds a lot like a beer truck driver. This type of job would only exist to deliver alcoholic beverages. I would have to imagine the candidates were informed of what they would be doing and what they would be delivering. I feel there is a responsibility on the candidates behalf because they should ask questions about the type of deliveries being performed and if there was an issue, they could easily decline the position or advise the hiring manager how they could not deliver alcohol. We all as individuals must take responsibility for the jobs we apply to, and do our best to understand what is required of us.
Let’s say for example I applied to a clinc as a nursing assistant. The hiring manager tells me it is an abortion clinic. It is then my responsibility as the candidate to tell the hiring manager I would no longer be interested in the position. Religious accommodations were established to provide accommodations without causing undue hardship on the employer. If the job required the employee to deliver alcohol or assist with abortions, there would be no accommodation for a person who said they could not perform the functions of the job. It is important to distinguish between what is considered reasonable and unreasonable.
A reasonable request would be one which did not require the employer to completely revamp the job or push all the employees duties to others because they could not perform due to restrictions. Myself and many other HR professionals will do all we can to assist those who cannot do the job because of restrictions, but we’re not required to eliminate job functions for one person if all others are required to do the same. The accommodation falls on us when we decide how to handle. If we say these individuals do not have to deliver alcohol, they would not have a job because they work for a alcohol distributor.
Here is a fact sheet provided by the EEOC since Title VI of the Civil Rights Code covers Religious discrimination. http://www.eeoc.gov/eeoc/newsroom/wysk/workplace_religious_accommodation.cfm. Employers should make their decisions very carefully on any accommodation. If the job exisits to perform a certain set of duties, eliminating a part of it may very well cause undue hardship as the person should not be needed since the job requires a person to perform deliveries 100% of the time.
Whenever an employee asks for a reasonable accommodation for religious purposes, the employer should take precautions to ensure the company will evalute the request and how the employees request will be clearly documented. This case gives me a little bit of anxiety since the government intervened in the case and assisted in getting the case pushed in favor of the two employees. I can understand if the company performed alcohol and soft drink deliveries, because the employees could then do 100% soft drink deliveries. This case is a clear example of how doing what is thought to be right can backfire on you if you’re not certain of the stipulations.
Remember, if the job exists only for particular job duties, an accommodation should be considered when it does not involve eliminating essential functions. If the person cannot perform those essential functions, they should be put on a leave of absence until they can perform those essential functions (this is always the case for FMLA leaves due to personal restrictions). I can only hope these two individuals won this court case because they had the ability to perform other functions besides delivering alcohol. If not, this can only mean we have to take more precautions before terminating employees for failure to perform essential functions.