TEST YOURSELF, UNION REP (Religious Accommodation)

QUESTION: An employee calls her union rep, you, on the phone to ask if anything can be done to help her comply with the demands of her faith.  She practices Islam and is at a point in her religious life where she is now required to make a pilgrimage to Mecca. She needs to be absent for about three weeks, even though she only has two weeks of annual leave available. However, her manager has refused to let her go at all. The manager says it is one of the very busy times of the year for the location in which she works and she is among the top producers in the office.  Is there anything you can do for her besides ask the manager to reconsider?

ANSWER: It will not be easy to win this one, but it is possible.  After all, as we pointed out in $75,000+ FOR DENIAL OF  PILGRIMAGE LEAVE, the Dept. of Justice demanded that an employer grant pilgrimage leave to a teacher so she could comply with the requirements of her faith.

EEOC describes an undue hardship as one which, “may cause undue hardship if it is costly, compromises workplace safety, decreases workplace efficiency, infringes on the rights of other employees, or requires other employees to do more than their share of potentially hazardous or burdensome work.”  However, the hardship must be significant  or “undue” whether related to cost, efficiency, or safety.  EEOC has posted on its web site advice how employers should consider schedule changes, reassignments, and employee substitutions or swaps, before denying a leave request related to a religious obligation. FEDSMILL.com has touched on the issue of leave as a religious accommodation often, especially in connection with getting a weekend day off—even if the employee is still a probationer., e.g.,

This is a good article if you want an overview of the right.

We recommend that a rep start this case off by having the employee meet with an EEOC counselor along with the union rep.  If the manager’s objection is just based on ignorance of the law, the counselor can probably turn that around faster than anyone else.  After all, the big risk in cases like this is that the employee may take the time off anyway and face a suspension or termination.

About AdminUN

FEDSMILL staff has over 40 years of federal sector labor relations experience on the union as well as management side of the table and even some time as a neutral.
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