- United Airlines violated Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 by refusing to change its drug treatment program to accommodate the beliefs of a Buddhist pilot, the US Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) alleged in a lawsuit (EEOC c. United Airlines Inc., n ° 20-cv-9110 (DNJ July 20, 2020)).
- The pilot was diagnosed with alcohol dependence and lost the Federal Aviation Administration medical certificate necessary for his job, the EEOC said. United runs a drug addiction program for its pilots that provides treatment and sponsors them to obtain new medical certificates, according to the Commission. One of the requirements of the United program is that pilots regularly attend Alcoholics Anonymous (AA). The pilot objected to the religious content of AA and preferred to attend a Buddhist-based peer support group. Because United refused to accommodate him, the pilot was unable to obtain a new medical certificate allowing him to fly again.
- Describing the requested accommodation as a “modest change,” EEOC New York regional attorney Jeffrey Burstein said in the statement announcing the lawsuit that “employers have a positive obligation to change their policies to accommodate religious beliefs of employees “. A United spokesperson said via email that the company was unable to comment on the pending legislation.
Title VII prohibits employers from discriminating against workers on the basis of religion – as well as a series of other protected categories – and requires employers to reasonably accommodate an employee’s sincere religious beliefs, unless this does not pose undue hardship for the employer, according to the EEOC counseling on religious discrimination.
“Accommodation can cause undue hardship if it is costly, compromises workplace safety, decreases the efficiency of the workplace, violates the rights of other employees, or forces other employees to do more than their share of potentially hazardous work. or painful, ”the EEOC said in its advice.
Although the standard of “undue hardship” sets the bar high for employers, some have succeeded in making this argument. Walmart won a case earlier this year regarding a manager’s request for Saturday leave. The national retailer showed demand would leave the store without a manager on Saturday. In another case, the US 11th Circuit Court of Appeals ruled that a worker at a nuclear power plant was not entitled to Saturday leave as accommodation; the employer has shown that he should have changed his scheduling and assignment procedures for an already demanding job, hire an additional employee and risk his employment contract with the plant.
While common religious accommodations may include an employee who needs a schedule change to attend religious services or breaks that allow it daily prayers at prescribed times, the law does not require employers to provide preferred accommodation for a worker. However, employers are expected to engage in an interactive and good faith process to determine worker accommodations. This makes compliance training a good idea, experts say, recommending that HR ensure managers are trained to deal with requests and to listen for clues suggesting a need for accommodation even if there is no such thing. has no formal request.