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Accommodating Religion in the Work Place

A recent lawsuit filed by the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission ("EEOC") against Walmart raises an important question facing many employees: Is there any place in the workplace for your religious beliefs?

The lawsuit, which was filed in the Western District of Washington Federal Court, alleges that Walmart disciplined and threatened to fire an assistant manager for refusing to violate his religious beliefs. The employee was a devout Mormon who began working for Walmart in 1995. As part of his religious practice, the employee observes the Sabbath by refraining from work of any kind. In 2009, Walmart refused to continue accommodating the employee's request to not work on Sunday.

Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 requires employers to provide reasonable accommodations to the sincere religious beliefs of employees, as long as the accommodations do not pose an undue hardship. EEOC Guidelines state that protected religious practices "include moral or ethical beliefs as to what is right and wrong which are sincerely held with thestrength of traditional religious views." Title VII imposes a duty to "reasonably accommodate to an employee's religious observance or practice" unless doing so would impose an "undue hardship on the conduct of the employer's business."

An employer who does not make a sincere effort to accommodate an employees' religious beliefs and simply denies requests for a religious accommodation may be violating the law.

The EEOC enforces federal laws prohibiting employment discrimination such as sexual harassment, sex discrimination, racial harassment, race discrimination, age discrimination, religious discrimination and disability discrimination. Additional information about the EEOC is available on its web site at www.eeoc.gov.

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