Religion and Reasonable Accommodation >
Both federal and Massachusetts law offer employees and prospective employees legal protection in association with the practice of their faith.
The federal law is the Civil Rights Act of 1964. The Massachusetts law is Chapter 151B, the state’s anti-discrimination law.
The state law addresses the following key issues:
- Reasonable accommodation to the needs of employees or prospective employees
- Religious proof
- Undue hardship
Reasonable Accommodation - The statute makes it unlawful for an employer to impose on an employee or prospective employee as a condition of getting or keeping a job any terms or conditions that would require the individual to violate or forego a practice required by his or her religion. This includes, but is not limited to, requiring an employee or prospective employee to work on any day or portion thereof that the employee observes as a sabbath or holy day
Requesting time off – It is the duty of the employee to request an accommodation for religious purposes. In making that request the employee or prospective employee must:
- demonstrate that observance of the sabbath or holy day is a required practice of his or her religion;
- notify the employer at least 10 days in advance of the requested absence that the employee intends to take time off for religious purposes; and
- may include a reasonable amount of time for travel to and from work in the request for time off.
The employer may require the employee to make up the absence at a mutually convenient time. Any employer asking for an employee to make up time in a different work week needs to be mindful of potential overtime implications for non-exempt employees.
Compensation - The employer is not required to compensate an employee for any religious absence requested and provided in accordance with this law. Companies should rely on their time-off policies for whether or not to pay an employee.
Religious Proof - The burden of proof is on the employee to demonstrate the required practices of the religion that produce the request for time off. While this does not mean you should engage in a theological discussion about the details of someone’s faith, it does mean an employer may ask for some supporting information as to what the required practices are and how they may impact the employee’s schedule.
Undue Hardship – The default presumption is that the employer will be able to make the reasonable accommodation, but the statute also recognizes that that it shall not pose an undue hardship on the employer to make the accommodation.
Examples of undue hardship include:
- Inability to provide services required by federal or state law or regulation;
- Situations that compromise public health and safety;
- Inability to transact business without the employee's presence, where his or her work cannot be performed by another employee who has substantially similar qualifications during the period of absence;;
- The employee's presence is needed to alleviate an emergency situation.
Burden of Proof – The burden of proof to show that making the accommodation poses an undue hardship rests with the employer.