Requirement to Make Reasonable Accommodations in the Workplace
Employers are required by the Civil Rights Act and the NJLAD to make reasonable accommodations for an employee’s religious beliefs and practices, so long as doing so would not constitute an undue hardship. It is an employee’s responsibility to request accommodation; the employer’s obligation is to try in good faith to accommodate the employee’s religious needs, although this does not have to be in the specific manner that employee requests. Employers may have to make exceptions to policies to accommodate an employee’s religious beliefs.
Example: A female medical office receptionist is a devout Muslim whose beliefs dictate that she wear a covering on her head when in mixed company. She requests to wear her Hijab (a scarf that covers her head and neck) along with her company-issued uniform. Ordinarily, employees are not permitted to wear head coverings or other non-uniform items, but it is unlikely that allowing it would be an “undue hardship.” Her request should most likely be approved.
However, employers do not have to make an accommodation that would create an “undue hardship.” A requested accommodation causes an “undue hardship” under the law if accommodating it requires “anything more than ordinary administrative costs, diminishes efficiency in other jobs, infringes on other employees’ job rights or benefits, impairs workplace safety, causes coworkers to carry the accommodated employee’s share of potentially hazardous or burdensome work, or if the proposed accommodation conflicts with another law or regulation.”
Example: The aforementioned employee frequently has to operate medical equipment and enter sterile lab areas. If her requested head covering poses a safety or health risk, her request can legally be denied. However, if she then requests a head covering that meets her religious obligations and is generally accepted by the medical community as meeting safety and cleanliness requirements, she may have a claim against her employer if her subsequent request is denied.