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EPLI: Religious Discrimination Claims Climbing

EPLI Religious Discrimination Claims ClimbingEPLI: Employers Face Increasingly Complex Religious-Based Issues in Workplace

The diversity we celebrate in America today is also contributing to a more complex workplace as discrimination cases have increased, including employee complaints of religious discrimination. The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) received 3,811 religion-based complaints in fiscal 2012, the second-highest level ever and just below the record 4,151 in 2011. Now to put this in perspective, when compared with claims of age, sex, race and disability discrimination, religion-based complaints are still a small portion of the workplace-bias complaints. For example, complaints involving race or sex each totaled more than 30,000 in 2012. Yet we are beginning to see a trend develop regarding workplace religious-based issues.

In fact, companies of all sizes are beginning to be affected by the complex intermixing of work and faith, creating legal headaches for them. Some of these issues, for example, come from employees – Muslims, Christians, Seventh-Day Adventists and others – who were denied requests to avoid work on Sabbath days. Conflicts also have erupted over workers’ appearance, particularly in jobs requiring uniforms, involving food preparation and in image-focused fashion retailing.

According to a recent article in the Wall Street Journal, the EEOC has seen a wide range of employee claims alleging religious discrimination. For example, workers claim that managers have unlawfully told them not to wear hijabs, which are the head scarves worn by many Muslim women; long skirts prevalent among Christian Pentecostal women; beards or turbans often worn by Sikhs; and religious piercings and tattoos.

Additionally, over the past several years, the EEOC has filed religious-discrimination lawsuits against companies in the fast-food, hair-salon, aviation, hotel, retail, medical and health-services industries. According to the WSJ article, many employers have settled, including Wal-Mart Stores Inc. and clothing chain Abercrombie & Fitch Co., generally paying tens of thousands of dollars to a worker and conducting religious discrimination training even if they deny wrongdoing.

What is the implication of the rise in these types of complaints? That will depend on how far religious liberties should extend, according to legal experts. According to the law, “Religious liberty extends all the way to the point of it creating an ‘undue hardship’ in business.” Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 generally forbids considering religion in making employment decisions and requires employers to reasonably accommodate workers’ religion-based requests – as long as it doesn’t cause an undue hardship.

But defining undue hardship is tricky and the burden of proof falls upon the employer. It is loosely defined as resulting in more than minimal costs or burden to accommodate a worker, which includes causing drops in efficiency or safety, burdening other employees or incurring certain expenses, according to federal regulations and EEOC guidelines. And like other EEOC-issued guidelines, there is a lack of specifics. Decisions “must be made by considering the particular factual context of each case,” according to the guidelines.

As with many other issues involving alleged discrimination in the workplace, this is a complicated issue. Employers must be clear in their employment policies and procedures to prevent potential problems. In addition, Employment Practices Liability Insurance (EPLI) must be an integral component of one’s risk management program to provide coverage in the event of a suit alleging discrimination and other workplace employment issues.

Axis Insurance Services, LLC specializes in providing companies with EPLI insurance. Please give us a call at (877) 787-5258 to discuss your specific needs.

Sources: WSJ, Huffington Post

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Blogged on: November 20, 2013 by Mike Smith
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