Tricks Of The Trade: Freedom Of Worship

By James C. Elledge, IFMA Fellow, CFM, FMA, RPA, RIAQM
Published in the October 2008 issue of Today’s Facility Manager

Q I have been asked to look into the modification and adaptation of some areas in our building and facilities to accommodate the daily prayer requirements of our Muslim employees. They have requested foot washing stations and a prayer room.

We are a privately held manufacturer of custom sealing systems and mechanical seals. We employ standard machine shop practices and manufacturing processes. We operate a number of facilities in the states and some overseas. We have 350 employees worldwide.

So my question is this. Have you had to deal with such requests? If so, what have you done? Is there a company policy covering this, and/or other religious activity on company property? Did you get complaints from other religious groups?

Leon Joyce
Facilities Manager
Stein Seal Co.
Kulpsville, PA

A Here is an excerpt on religious discrimination, according to the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission:

“Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 prohibits employers from discriminating against individuals because of their religion in hiring, firing, and other terms and conditions of employment. The Act also requires employers to accommodate, within reason, the religious practices of an employee or prospective employee, unless to do so would create an undue hardship upon the employer (see also 29 CFR l605). Flexible scheduling, voluntary substitutions or swaps, job reassignments, and lateral transfers are examples of accommodating an employee’s religious beliefs.

“Employers cannot schedule examinations or other selection activities in conflict with a current or prospective employee’s religious needs, inquire about an applicant’s future availability at certain times, maintain a restrictive dress code, or refuse to allow observance of a Sabbath or religious holiday, unless the employer can prove that not doing so would cause an undue hardship.

“An employer can claim undue hardship when accommodating an employee’s religious practices if allowing such practices requires more than ordinary administrative costs. Undue hardship also may be shown if changing a bona fide seniority system to accommodate one employee’s religious practices denies another employee the job or shift preference guaranteed by the seniority system.

“An employee whose religious practices prohibit payment of union dues to a labor organization cannot be required to pay the dues, but may pay an equal sum to a charitable organization.

“Mandatory ‘new age’ training programs designed to improve employee motivation, cooperation, or productivity through meditation, yoga, biofeedback, or other practices may conflict with the non-discriminatory provisions of Title VII. Employers must accommodate any employee who gives notice that these programs are inconsistent with the employee’s religious beliefs, whether or not the employer believes there is a religious basis for the employee’s objection.”

So what does this really mean? Well, there are several things you could do to accommodate this request and still satisfy employees from all religious backgrounds.

First, you could provide an area that would be considered a place of worship for all employees, thereby avoiding the risk of discriminating against other religions. If your company gives employees personal time to practice their faith, then you are making reasonable accommodations for them to do so. On the other hand, if the space and costs to create a room would cause an undue hardship to the employer, then one could argue that reasonable accommodations have been given.

Your corporate counsel should be able to provide an opinion on what would be considered reasonable accommodations as it pertains to the laws in effect in the cities and states where your company operates.

Elledge,facility/office services manager for Dallas, TX-based Summit AllianceCompanies, is the recipient of the Distinguished Author Award from theInternational Facility Management Association (IFMA), is an IFMA Fellow, and isa member of TFM’sEditorial Advisory Board. All questions have been submitted via the “Ask TheExpert” portion of the magazine’s Web site. To pose a question, visit this link.