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The number of workers filing lawsuits claiming discrimination based on religious faith or sexuality is on the rise in the U.S. More than 3,500 charges of workplace religious discrimination, for example, came before the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) in 2015. The number of charges has risen about 44 percent in the last 10 years, according to Michael S. Cohen, partner at Duane Morris LLP in Philadelphia. In 2014, the EEOC obtained $8 million in settlements involving religious discrimination cases.Cohen led a concurrent session on "Managing D&I: Religion and LGBTQ Issues in the Workplace" at the Society for Human Resource Management's (SHRM's) Diversity & Inclusion (D&I) Conference & Exposition in October."These [religious and LGBTQ] cases are happening every day and many organizations, because of the lack of willingness to talk about them, don't have the first clue" as to how to respond when they come up, he said. So, he shared some pointers.
Accommodating Different Religious Beliefs
The broad definition of a "bona fide religious belief," he said, is a sincerely held belief that includes moral and ethical practices and beliefs that fill the role of religion. It includes more than organized and recognized teachings of religion and may include beliefs held by a just few people—or even one person.[SHRM members-only toolkit: Accommodating Religion, Belief and Spirituality in the Workplace]Religious beliefs may dictate dress, hair style and length, praying, eating, holiday observances, and proselytizing and/or recruitment of others—all things that may impact the workplace.Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 prohibits religious discrimination and requires employers to provide reasonable accommodation of religious observance, practice and belief unless the employer can demonstrate that a reasonable accommodation cannot be made "without undue hardship on the conduct of the employer's business," Cohen said. Reasonable accommodations commonly include time off for religious observances, rearranging work schedules or allowing employees to swap shifts, modifying dress codes, offering lateral transfers, and exchanging break times for early departure."Once an accommodation is deemed to be reasonable," which he said was an extremely low bar for the employee to demonstrate "... we then have the opportunity to show whether there's an undue hardship" on the employer.Undue hardships may be shown, he said, where the accommodation:
Learning About LGBTQ Workers
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