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Thursday, November 6, 2008

Religious accommodation for prayer becomes hot issue

As I've written before, Title VII requires employers to reasonably accommodate an employee whose sincerely held religious belief, practice, or observance conflicts with a work requirement, unless doing so would pose an undue hardship. Recently, the issue of accommodating employee’s prayer at work has gotten a lot attention. Articles in both the USA Today and the Wall Street Journal recount stories of Muslim employees whose employers refused to permit time at work to accommodate daily prayer.

The following table, courtesy of the EEOC and the USA Today, illustrates the rise of religious discrimination claims brought by Muslims, in the last 10 years, and especially after Sept. 11:

Year Muslim Jewish Catholic Protestant
1998 285 276 118 159
1999 282 287 101 171
2000 284 282 134 178
2001 330 294 143 210
2002 720 317 118 204
2003 598 260 145 241
2004 504 275 135 228
2005 507 281 122 206
2006 594 282 118 233
2007 607 287 177 258

Two facts stick out from this table: religious bias claims are way up across the board, and claims brought by Muslim employees lead the pack by an eye-popping margin. Before you knee-jerk prohibit Muslim (or other) employees from praying at work, consider these numbers, what real effect five minutes of prayer will have on your organization, and whether you want to be defending the bona fides of that effect at the EEOC or in court.

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