When Is an Accommodation Too Much?

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Under Title VII of the 1964 Civil Rights Act, an employer is obligated to accommodate the religious beliefs of employees.  Similarly, the Americans With Disabilities Act requires an employer to accommodate the needs of disabled workers.

Muslim employees in Greeley, Colorado and Grand Island, Nebraska meat packing plants claimed that the plants violated Title VII by failing to accommodate their need to pray periodically during the work day.  The employees believed that they should be allowed to take unscheduled breaks to pray or have a mass meal break at a time coinciding more closely with sunset prayer.

On October 11, 2013, a federal judge in Nebraska granted summary judgment for the employer, reasoning that the employee’s request would cause an undue hardship to the employer.

This case illustrates the employer’s obligation in response to an accommodation request for either religious or disability reasons.  When an employee claims that an employer failed to accommodate his or her religious beliefs or a disability, the employer has the burden of proving the affirmative defense that the granting of the proposed accommodation would have resulted in an “undue hardship.” Relevant case law defines “undue hardship” as more than a de minimis burden on the employer, and essentially requires larger employers to honor proposed accommodations more so than smaller employers.