Workshop: Religion and the Workplace: Workers’ Rights and Accommodations – Samuel Nielson

by Justin Miller, 2017 ICLRS Student Fellow

Samuel P. Nielson, a labor law attorney at Sessions Kimball, gave a presentation on workers’ rights and accommodations. Religious rights in the workplace are governed by both federal and state law. Under federal law, Title VII of the Civil Rights Act only applies to employers with 15 or more employees. State Laws may apply with fewer employees (e.g. California applies to employers with 5 or more employees).

Employees are entitled to be free from discrimination, harassment, and retaliation, while employers must make reasonable accommodations for their employees’ sincere religious beliefs. These beliefs are subjective to the employee and may include attending a worship service, daily prayers, religious dress and grooming, etc. Some conflicts cannot reasonably be eliminated, and the employee is not entitled to the accommodation of his or her choice. Furthermore, individual employee rights take precedence over customer preferences.

Religious rights can be effectively asserted in the workplace by notifying the employer that there is a conflict for religious reasons. These beliefs or adherence may change over time. The accommodations that employers provide may include flexible scheduling, voluntary substitutes and swaps, lateral transfers and change of job assignments.