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Allowing Employee to Seek Voluntary Shift Swaps is Adequate Accommodation of Religious Beliefs

    Client Alerts
  • March 16, 2012

Perhaps the most common Title VII religious discrimination cases involve requests by employees for exemption from working on certain days of the week due to religious observations. While federal courts have generally found no blanket right not to work on these days, employers are required to provide reasonable accommodations of the employee's religious beliefs where no high burden is placed on them or their co-workers.

Last week, the First Circuit Court of Appeals concluded that an employer's response to an employee seeking exemption from Saturday work met its accommodation burden under Title VII. In Sanchez-Rodriguez v. AT&T Mobility Puerto Rico, Inc., the plaintiff was a cellular telephone salesperson for AT&T. Six years after beginning work for AT&T, the plaintiff informed the company that he had recently become a Seventh Day Adventist, and requested that he be exempted from Saturday work as prescribed under church doctrine.

AT&T responded that rotating Saturday work was an essential function of the sales job, and that exempting the plaintiff would place an unacceptable burden on his co-workers. As an alternative, the company offered two possible accommodations. First, the plaintiff was offered transfer to a non-sales job that did not involve weekend work. He rejected this alternative due to the substantial difference in pay involved. Second, AT&T offered to allow the plaintiff to seek voluntary shift swaps with his co-workers, by providing him with their work schedules, and allowing him to post requests on the company bulletin board.

The plaintiff resigned shortly thereafter and filed suit under Title VII. He contended that the shift swap offer was not a reasonable accommodation, because AT&T had never actually provided him with his co-workers' schedules. The First Circuit rejected this contention, affirming summary judgment for AT&T. The court stated that the combination of alternative job offer and shift swaps satisfied AT&T's accommodation obligation, even if co-worker schedules were not provided before the plaintiff resigned. The combination of these attempts, plus AT&T's refraining from taking disciplinary action during the accommodation process were enough to satisfy its legal burden.

For employees requesting regular days off from work for religious observance, allowing voluntary shift swaps while declining a blanket work exemption is a very common accommodation response. When combined with clear documentation of the employer's efforts to work with the employee requesting the accommodation, this response should be enough to meet Title VII obligations in most cases.