Q: What are the rules on religious accommodation in the workplace?
A: A key, but not exclusive, law to keep in mind is the Civil Rights Act of 1964, Title VII which "... outlaws discrimination based on race, color, religion, sex, or national origin. It prohibits unequal application of ... employment and public accommodations." A recent U.S. Supreme Court case considered a 17-year-old practicing Muslim who applied to an Abercrombie & Fitch store wearing her hijab and learned later that her appearance was in conflict with the company's "look policy."
She filed a complaint with the U.S. Equal Opportunity Employment Commission. Ultimately the Supreme Court opinion stated, "An employer may not make an applicant's religious practice, confirmed or otherwise, a factor in employment decisions."
An additional law is the Minnesota Human Rights Act, which states that it's illegal for an employer to treat an employee differently because the person belongs to a protected class of people, e.g., religion. The Minnesota Department of Human Rights points out that employers are required to reasonably accommodate religious beliefs held by employees except if doing so would impose an undue hardship. It gives examples of where accommodation would be expected, such as time off for the Sabbath or prayer breaks.
As to undue hardship, the U.S. Supreme Court has held an employer need not incur more than minimal costs for accommodating an employee's religious expression at work.
Finding a balance in a way that costs an employer minimally and still allows opportunity for an employee to exercise a religious belief can be a challenge.
John Del Vecchio is on faculty at the University of St. Thomas Opus College of Business.