The Changing Role of Religion in the Workplace: Workplace Religious Freedom Act May Be the Next Civil Rights Law

We have covered religion in the workplace from time to time here, including this recent posting.

Now, the Workplace Religious Freedom Act is gaining momentum. This bill would require companies to “to prove that allowing religious expression on the job entails significant difficulty or expense.”

In greater detail, this bill:

Amends the Civil Rights Act of 1964 to modify the definition of “religion” for purposes of coverage under that Act by requiring employers to make an affirmative and bona fide effort to reasonably accommodate the religious practices of employees. Defines the term “perform the essential functions” to exclude practices having a temporary or tangential impact on an employee’s ability to perform job functions, such as practices relating to clothing or taking time off work. Sets forth factors to consider in determining whether an accommodation causes undue hardship. Defines “employee” to require an ability to perform essential job functions with or without reasonable accommodation.

Without this bill, employees have a more difficult time taking off for religious holidays. The bill may make it easier for a pharmacist to refuse to dispense morning-after pills when doing so conflicts with her religion. One can imagine all kinds of interesting cases that could come up, but the new conservative Supreme Court may be more willing to support plaintiffs on this issue!

The bill, although considered unlikely to pass this year, has been gaining momentum. Not surprisingly, companies are much more wary of the bill and its effects on their business. Read a well-written article here; more information on bill itself can be found here.

photo credit: kenpower via flickr

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