Wednesday, July 20, 2011

You’d think a businesses named “Menorah House” would know something about accommodating the Sabbath

The EEOC is alleging that Menorah House, a Boca Raton, Florida, nursing home, violated Title VII when it fired an employee who wanted time off to observe the Sabbath. From the EEOC’s press release:

According to the EEOC’s suit … Menorah House denied a religious accommodation to Philomene Augustin and fired her because of her religious beliefs. Augustin … is a Seventh-Day Adventist, and her Sabbath is from sundown on Friday to sundown on Saturday evening. Menorah House had accommodated Augustin’s request not to work on her Sabbath for over ten years until management instituted a new policy requiring all employees to work on Saturdays, regardless of their religious beliefs.

Title VII requires an employer 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. An accommodation poses an undue hardship if it causes more than de minimis cost on the operation of the employer’s business.

When will accommodating the weekly Sabbath requests of an employee pose an undue hardship?

  • If it would require hiring additional employees.
  • If it would require paying other employees overtime.
  • If other employees refuse to voluntarily swap shifts to cover.
  • If it would deprive another employee of a job preference or other benefit guaranteed by a bona fide seniority system or collective bargaining agreement.

If, however, an employer can schedule around the request without adding employees or costs, or without forcing employees to swap shifts, then the accommodation likely should be made.

If the facts as alleged by the EEOC are true, this employer should have forsaken its across-the-board prohibition against Saturdays off. Instead, it should have engaged in a cooperative information-sharing process with the employee to determine if it could provide a reasonable accommodation without incurring an undue hardship.

For more information on religious discrimination and reasonable accommodations, the EEOC offers the following resources on its website:

Written by Jon Hyman, a partner in the Labor & Employment group of Kohrman Jackson & Krantz. For more information, contact Jon at (216) 736-7226 or