Witches, Warlocks....and Santa? Religious Accommodations During the Holiday Season

by Davis Brown Law Firm

[author: ]

The law firm is in full Halloween swing. There are severed hands in the outbox, styrofoam tombstones hanging by marketing and a fiendish ghoul that cackles guarding a conference room door. While some people might argue that this is normal for your standard law firm it did bring to light the issues that many employers face during the long holiday season; that of religious accommodation.

There is no secret that in the United States we have a wide-array of religions, some of which have beliefs and rituals which may not be well known to others, including co-workers. We also frequently have dueling definitions of what is offensive. A practitioner of Wicca might find the warty witch face cackling by the door to be entirely offensive, while another employee might find the pentacle worn by the Wicca practitioner to be equally offensive. The problem for the employer is the balance of how to protect the individual's religious freedoms and still get work done.

Religious issues in the work place are treated more like disability accommodation than something such as an age discrimination complaint. For the purposes of a religious accommodation issue, the employer must first assess whether or not the issue is a religiously held belief or belief held with the same conviction as a religious belief (you do not have to ascribe to a certain religion if the belief you are professing is held with the same conviction that a religious belief would be held). The second prong of this test, like in a disability claim, is to determine what type of accommodation is requested or needed. The third prong is to make an assessment as to whether or not such an accommodation is reasonable. Note that the EEOC and Iowa Civil Rights Commission have a broader definition of what is reasonable than many employers. So, the point is to be generous in accommodation if practical.

Various cases have all found extra break time for prayers, limitations on work hours such as an observant Jew not being required to work after sundown on Friday as reasonable accommodations. Again, such reasonable accommodations are based on the nature and type of the work, the actual request for accommodation and similar factors.

Safety issues do not typically form the foundation for a religious accommodation. There are a significant number of cases which indicate that although a religion may require that men wear a full beard, if the job requires safety gear, such as a respiratory breather, a full beard is not an appropriate accommodation because it would damage the breathe seal and potentially place the employee at risk. Certain accommodations, particularly if you are a healthcare provider, may also pose an infection control risk, such as if an employee is required to wear a specific type of ointment or carry a certain charm or amulet that may not be acceptable from an infection control standard. The FMLA also provides for certifications from religious healers and practitioners in some limited circumstances. All religions require assessment and potential accommodation.

An interesting case in this area involved a maternity clothing shop where a Muslim woman requested to wear a head scarf and was told she could not. The store was adamant that no accommodation be made. In testimony the company manager stated that she didn't realize the woman was Muslim. She thought she was Mormon, which would also require an accommodation for a religious specific need,  thereby creating a classic example of both ignorance and discrimination.

Perhaps the most difficult thing to deal with in a religious accommodation situation is when there is simply offense taken by one employee to the religious practices or observances of another employee. However, if you have a workplace where you allow employees to wear crosses or crucifixes (which tends to be fairly common) to work you can't prohibit an employee from wearing a pentacle or pentagram or any other religious jewelry. A number of religions might object to Halloween, others the signs and symbols of Christmas, and an increasingly large proportion of Americans who state they have no particular religion might just see both as an excuse for candy. If you allow an outward showing of one religion, you cannot decline to allow the same type of showing for other religions. Tolerance, in this instance, begins at work.

DISCLAIMER: Because of the generality of this update, the information provided herein may not be applicable in all situations and should not be acted upon without specific legal advice based on particular situations.

© Davis Brown Law Firm | Attorney Advertising

Written by:

Davis Brown Law Firm

Davis Brown Law Firm on:

Readers' Choice 2017
Reporters on Deadline

"My best business intelligence, in one easy email…"

Your first step to building a free, personalized, morning email brief covering pertinent authors and topics on JD Supra:
Sign up using*

Already signed up? Log in here

*By using the service, you signify your acceptance of JD Supra's Privacy Policy.
Custom Email Digest
Privacy Policy (Updated: October 8, 2015):

JD Supra provides users with access to its legal industry publishing services (the "Service") through its website (the "Website") as well as through other sources. Our policies with regard to data collection and use of personal information of users of the Service, regardless of the manner in which users access the Service, and visitors to the Website are set forth in this statement ("Policy"). By using the Service, you signify your acceptance of this Policy.

Information Collection and Use by JD Supra

JD Supra collects users' names, companies, titles, e-mail address and industry. JD Supra also tracks the pages that users visit, logs IP addresses and aggregates non-personally identifiable user data and browser type. This data is gathered using cookies and other technologies.

The information and data collected is used to authenticate users and to send notifications relating to the Service, including email alerts to which users have subscribed; to manage the Service and Website, to improve the Service and to customize the user's experience. This information is also provided to the authors of the content to give them insight into their readership and help them to improve their content, so that it is most useful for our users.

JD Supra does not sell, rent or otherwise provide your details to third parties, other than to the authors of the content on JD Supra.

If you prefer not to enable cookies, you may change your browser settings to disable cookies; however, please note that rejecting cookies while visiting the Website may result in certain parts of the Website not operating correctly or as efficiently as if cookies were allowed.

Email Choice/Opt-out

Users who opt in to receive emails may choose to no longer receive e-mail updates and newsletters by selecting the "opt-out of future email" option in the email they receive from JD Supra or in their JD Supra account management screen.


JD Supra takes reasonable precautions to insure that user information is kept private. We restrict access to user information to those individuals who reasonably need access to perform their job functions, such as our third party email service, customer service personnel and technical staff. However, please note that no method of transmitting or storing data is completely secure and we cannot guarantee the security of user information. Unauthorized entry or use, hardware or software failure, and other factors may compromise the security of user information at any time.

If you have reason to believe that your interaction with us is no longer secure, you must immediately notify us of the problem by contacting us at info@jdsupra.com. In the unlikely event that we believe that the security of your user information in our possession or control may have been compromised, we may seek to notify you of that development and, if so, will endeavor to do so as promptly as practicable under the circumstances.

Sharing and Disclosure of Information JD Supra Collects

Except as otherwise described in this privacy statement, JD Supra will not disclose personal information to any third party unless we believe that disclosure is necessary to: (1) comply with applicable laws; (2) respond to governmental inquiries or requests; (3) comply with valid legal process; (4) protect the rights, privacy, safety or property of JD Supra, users of the Service, Website visitors or the public; (5) permit us to pursue available remedies or limit the damages that we may sustain; and (6) enforce our Terms & Conditions of Use.

In the event there is a change in the corporate structure of JD Supra such as, but not limited to, merger, consolidation, sale, liquidation or transfer of substantial assets, JD Supra may, in its sole discretion, transfer, sell or assign information collected on and through the Service to one or more affiliated or unaffiliated third parties.

Links to Other Websites

This Website and the Service may contain links to other websites. The operator of such other websites may collect information about you, including through cookies or other technologies. If you are using the Service through the Website and link to another site, you will leave the Website and this Policy will not apply to your use of and activity on those other sites. We encourage you to read the legal notices posted on those sites, including their privacy policies. We shall have no responsibility or liability for your visitation to, and the data collection and use practices of, such other sites. This Policy applies solely to the information collected in connection with your use of this Website and does not apply to any practices conducted offline or in connection with any other websites.

Changes in Our Privacy Policy

We reserve the right to change this Policy at any time. Please refer to the date at the top of this page to determine when this Policy was last revised. Any changes to our privacy policy will become effective upon posting of the revised policy on the Website. By continuing to use the Service or Website following such changes, you will be deemed to have agreed to such changes. If you do not agree with the terms of this Policy, as it may be amended from time to time, in whole or part, please do not continue using the Service or the Website.

Contacting JD Supra

If you have any questions about this privacy statement, the practices of this site, your dealings with this Web site, or if you would like to change any of the information you have provided to us, please contact us at: info@jdsupra.com.

- hide
*With LinkedIn, you don't need to create a separate login to manage your free JD Supra account, and we can make suggestions based on your needs and interests. We will not post anything on LinkedIn in your name. Or, sign up using your email address.