New EEOC fact sheet focuses on acts of religious discrimination

Q&A with Nathan Whatley

published in The Oklahoman | August 4, 2016

Combatting religious discrimination in the workplace remains a priority for the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission. On July 22, 2016, the agency released a fact sheet that included, among other things, an announcement that it would begin collecting more precise data about the religions of employees alleging religious discrimination, and that it would use this data to track and respond to trends in such charges. McAfee & Taft labor and employment lawyer Nathan Whatley was interviewed by The Oklahoman about the EEOC’s latest fact sheet and what employers should do to accommodate employees with sincerely held religious beliefs.

“In most instances, employers will be required to make exceptions to their normal rules or preferences to permit applicants and employees to follow dress, grooming or other practices that are based on the employee’s sincerely held beliefs,” said Whatley.

In some cases, an employer may not be required to offer a reasonable accommodation if the person’s grooming or religious dress practices present workplace safety, security or health concerns, or if the circumstances pose an undue hardship on the operation of the business, he said.

Whatley said that while the sincerity of one’s beliefs typically isn’t in dispute in religious discrimination cases, employers who have a legitimate reason to question the religious nature or sincerity of one’s beliefs or practices may ask the person for more information reasonably needed to evaluate the request for accommodation.