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Reasonable Accommodations for Ramadan? Lessons From 2 EEOC Cases

By Brett Snider, Esq. | Last updated on

The holy month of Ramadan can mean certain religious obligations for Muslim employees, and employers should be educated about their legal obligations to reasonably accommodate Ramadan's observance.

What are reasonable accommodations for the month of Ramadan, which begins this weekend?

Maybe these two Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) cases can illuminate this issue:

J.B. Swift: Be Consistent With Accommodation Policy

In 2010, Muslim workers at two J.B. Swift meat-packing plants filed lawsuits alleging religious and national-origin discrimination based on incidents that unfolded during the month of Ramadan. Although some allegations involved harassing co-workers, The Washington Post reported that workers had allegedly been fired in 2008 after asking for a change in their second-shift dinner break during Ramadan.

Under Title VII, employers must provide employees with reasonable accommodations for their religious beliefs, practices, or observances, unless it would pose an "undue hardship" to the business; one aspect of Ramadan that may intersect with many small businesses is the practice of fasting from sunrise to sunset. The J.B. Swift suit came after a condemnation by the EEOC in 2009, declaring that ultimately giving workers the earlier dinner break would not have posed an undue hardship.

Offering employees an amended break for Ramadan is likely a reasonable accommodation, but employers should be consistent about their accommodation policies. Lawrence Z. Lorber tells Human Resource Executive that the key is consistency; companies should make concerted decisions on how to accommodate Ramadan requests.

  • Need legal advice on how your small business should operate? Consult with an experienced business attorney about your options.

Electrolux: Allow for Breaking Fast, Prayer

In another EEOC case, Muslim workers at an Electrolux manufacturing plant complained that a company health and safety regulation would not allow them to break their fast in production areas. To Electrolux's credit, they worked with the EEOC to reach a settlement that amended the break schedule to accommodate Ramadan fast-breaking.

Your business need not provide a completely separate space for prayer or breaking fast on Ramadan, but employers should have policies in place which reasonably accommodate employees who wish to pray or have an early dinner during this holy month. To accomplish this, your business may want to:

  • Amend shifts to allow an early dinner break during Ramadan;
  • Employ a "floating holiday" system, allowing all employees to take a set amount of paid hours for religious observance or family time; and/or
  • Be flexible on shift substitutions.

Be willing to accommodate during Ramadan and you'll not only avoid EEOC action, but you may also improve all workers' morale.

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