Perhaps the most frequently requested religious accommodation under Title VII involves scheduling to avoid working certain times of the week. Employers must consider allowing accommodations to allow employees time away from work for religious observances. However, as demonstrated by a new unpublished Eleventh Circuit Court of Appeals decision, employers do not need to guarantee that employees will never be scheduled to work on these days.
In Patterson v. Walgreen Co., the plaintiff was a call center trainer who, based on his Seventh Day Adventist beliefs, requested not to work from Friday sundown to Saturday sundown. Walgreens accommodated this request, but the plaintiff moved into a more senior position where emergency training was occasionally required over the weekend. Walgreens allowed the plaintiff to swap shifts with other trainers, but on one such emergency training occasion, he could not locate a replacement and consequently missed work. When meeting with human resources to discuss the issue, the plaintiff requested an accommodation that would guarantee that he would never be scheduled to work Fridays or Saturdays.
Walgreens declined this request and eventually terminated the plaintiff when another trainer quit, limiting the number of available persons to handle this work. He sued, claiming failure to provide reasonable accommodations for his religious beliefs under Title VII. The district court granted summary judgment for Walgreens, and the plaintiff appealed.
The Eleventh Circuit reached the same conclusion, affirming dismissal of the claim. The court concluded that Walgreens satisfied its accommodation obligation by allowing the plaintiff to switch shifts with other trainers. The inability of the plaintiff to find other trainers willing to make this switch did not make the accommodation ineffective. The plaintiff also declined to return to his earlier position that included a larger number of co-workers who could be asked to change training days. Under Title VII, employers are required to provide an effective accommodation, not the one preferred by the employee.
Although Walgreens did not have to demonstrate undue hardship, leaving the business without trainers available to work weekends would have reached this standard. This case confirms employers’ ability to develop effective accommodations that meet their business needs, and that such accommodations do not need to absolutely guarantee that such measures will be available in all circumstances.