BY ROBIN PAGGI Contributing columnist
Employment attorneys are predicting that religious discrimination claims against employers will most likely increase as a result of new legislation going into affect in California on Jan. 1. In this final segment of a three-part series, we'll look at what employers can do to prevent such claims.
Employers may not ask about an applicant's or employee's religious beliefs, so how might an employer discriminate against someone because of religion when the topic is off the table? Because many religious discrimination claims are filed against employers alleging they failed to accommodate an applicant's or employee's religious beliefs or practices after being told about the beliefs or practices.
Applicants and employees must put the employer on notice that they need an accommodation in order to win a discrimination suit. However, the notice need only be minimal and need not comply with the employer's notice procedures.
For example, in the case of California Fair Employment and Housing Commission v. Gemini, employee Lester Young told his supervisor that he needed time off to attend a religious convention. The request was denied, Young took the time off anyway, and was given a 10-day suspension when he returned. Young protested the suspension, told his supervisor that he was going to complain to the labor board, and then was fired.
According to a summary of the case on law.com, Gemini contended that "it was not required to accommodate Young's request until he explained his religious beliefs to his employer and provided enough information about his religious needs for Gemini to understand the significance of the convention and how his attendance was tied to his religious beliefs."
The court disagreed, saying that employees are not required to provide a complex explanation when giving notice to the employer concerning a reasonable accommodation. And, by the way, it's considered to be retaliation for firing an employee for threatening to complain to a governmental agency.
So, in order to prevent religious discrimination claims, employers should:
* Know what constitutes religious discrimination (covered in part 1 of this series);
* Know what constitutes a reasonable accommodation (covered in part 2 of this series);
* Have a formal policy against discrimination (all forms, not just religious);
* Train supervisors to take requests for religious accommodations seriously and to take them immediately to the company's HR professionals;
* Train HR professionals on how to effectively handle requests for religious accommodations, including documenting all interactions regarding the requests;
* Tell employees who to report to if they feel they are being discriminated against;
* Investigate all complaints; and,
* Take immediate remedial action if discrimination did occur.
Religion (or the lack thereof) is a serious subject for many people. State and federal laws require that employers take it seriously as well.
Robin Paggi is the Training Coordinator at Worklogic HR Legal Solutions. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. These are her opinions, not necessarily those of The Californian.