The Kim Davis Question: Can Your Employees Stop Doing Their Job for Religious Beliefs?

Row of columns in black and whiteDeclaring that she was acting “under God’s authority,” Kentucky county clerk Kim Davis has become something of a hot topic in recent weeks. The debate about issuing marriage licenses to gay couples still rages on, but Kim Davis’ situation brings up another pertinent employment litigation question, “can your employees stop doing their job because of their religious beliefs?”

Reasonable Accommodation

An employer is required by law to provide their employees with reasonable accommodation for their religion. This means that employers must take an employee’s religious beliefs into account when making business decisions regarding them, but must make sure not to take any discriminatory action. Here are a few examples of religious accommodations:

  • Not scheduling an employee to work on a holy day
  • Dress code exceptions (i.e. allowing longer hair for men with religious beliefs restricting them from cutting it)
  • Changing job duties if the current duties conflict with the employee’s religious beliefs
  • Excused absence from employer programs or other gatherings that include any religious teachings that are different than the employee’s own beliefs

Undue Hardship

Employers must make accommodations for their employees, but not always. If the accommodation causes more than a modest cost to the employer, then they may not be required to make the accommodation.

An example of an acceptable cost to employers is paying overtime to an employee for taking the shift of the employee needing that day off for religious observance. However, if the employer is forced to hire a new employee to cover all the time off, or pay another employee overtime on a frequent basis, then that will likely constitute undue hardship.

Also, the monetary cost isn’t the only cost taken into consideration. There may be a case where making accommodations for one employee can cause undue hardship by lowering morale or productivity among the other employees.

Garland & Mason, L.L.C.New Jersey business lawyers


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