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Is denying religious holidays enough for discrimination lawsuits?

As the end of the year approaches, many workers are looking forward to their time off during Thanksgiving and Christmas. However, not all employees celebrate these holidays at their homes. They might celebrate a special holiday for their religion that takes place on what is a typical work day for everyone else.

When fired employees file a lawsuit against their employers for religious discrimination, many of them cite their employers not accommodating for their religious needs. One of the most common examples is not giving them the time off to celebrate a holiday specific to their religion. It is important to know if an employer denying a worker one of the most important times of the year for their beliefs can play a large role in their lawsuit.

Accommodation rules

According to the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC), employers must try to accommodate a worker's religious beliefs or practices to the best of their abilities. This includes flexible scheduling and voluntary shift substitutions. If the employer can allow you to swap shifts with another worker for you to celebrate their holiday without much impacting the work environment, then they should make the effort to do so.

However, the employer can deny you your time off if they consider it an undue hardship. If your workplace has a limited amount of employees or the other workers lack experience with your task, they may feel like giving you the day off could be detrimental to the business. The EEOC also notes that the reasonable accommodation can be satisfied if there is a volunteer with similar qualifications that can take your shift by covering for your work absence or working overtime. If your employer denying your request is consistent with other vacation requests that are not religion-related, then you cannot use this as evidence.

One part of a larger issue

On its own, citing an employer for denying a religious holiday request will not be enough for a discrimination lawsuit. However, employees should pay attention to see if their work environment changes as a result of revealing their religion.

For example, a worker in Tennessee is currently filing a lawsuit against Walmart for facing discrimination after being denied a vacation for a Muslim holiday. After the manager's refusal to grant time off, they later demanded she demonstrate why her religion forbids her from handling pork and alcohol products. She complained to the corporate office, but this only resulted in the mangers reducing her hours, making her work alone and eventually firing her.

In this instance, revealing her religion from the initial request led to discrimination from her employers. Given Walmart's high number of employees, it is questionable why her managers would not allow for reasonable accommodation and have someone else work her shift instead. It also does not help that Walmart has had a frequent history of worker discrimination lawsuits filed against them.

If your religion has led to discrimination or harassment in your work environment, an employment law attorney can help protect your rights and help you recover from any damages you received in the experience.

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