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Giving Employees Time Off Work for Religious Reasons

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By Christopher Coble, Esq. on June 18, 2015 3:55 PM

Last night marked the beginning of Ramadan, Islam's holy month of fasting, and employers may have to make some reasonable accommodations for Muslim employees.

Here's how to be a good boss where employment law and religious law intersect.

Provide Consistent Religious Accommodations

Title VII requires employers to provide employees with reasonable accommodations for their religious beliefs, practices, or observances, unless it would pose an "undue hardship" to the business. Because Muslim employees will be fasting for the month of Ramadan, they may request adjustments to their schedule and meal breaks.

In 2009, an EEOC case determined that giving workers an earlier dinner break to allow for fasting and prayer would not pose an undue hardship on the business, and was therefore a reasonable accommodation. And rather than provide accommodations on a case-by-case basis, companies should be consistent in their religious accommodations, with company-wide policies and clear and respectful rules for religious observance.

Provide a Safe Time or Space for Practice

While businesses are not required to provide a completely separate space from prayer or breaking fast during Ramadan, they may have to be flexible enough to allow Muslim employees the time to break their fast or pray.

After Electrolux banned food in its production areas, some employees asked that they be allowed to break the fast elsewhere. In a settlement with the EEOC, Electrolux altered its break schedule to allow Muslim employees to pray and break their fasts in a safe place other than the production area.

By being flexible enough to allow for religious accommodations and applying those accommodations consistently, employers can respect their employees' right to religious practice at work. And that can make for a solemn, productive, and legal Ramadan for all. If you would like some guidance on religious accommodations at work, you can contact an experienced employment attorney near you.

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