29 CFR Appendix A to section 1605.2 and 1605.3 - Background Information

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Appendix A to §§ 1605.2 and 1605.3 - Background Information

In 1966, the Commission adopted guidelines on religious discrimination which stated that an employer had an obligation to accommodate the religious practices of its employees or prospective employees unless to do so would create a “serious inconvenience to the conduct of the business”. 29 CFR 1605.1(a)(2), 31 FR 3870 (1966).

In 1967, the Commission revised these guidelines to state that an employer had an obligation to reasonably accommodate the religious practices of its employees or prospective employees, unless the employer could prove that to do so would create an “undue hardship”. 29 CFR 1605.1(b)(c), 32 FR 10298.

In 1972, Congress amended title VII to incorporate the obligation to accommodate expressed in the Commission's 1967 Guidelines by adding section 701(j).

In 1977, the United States Supreme Court issued its decision in the case of Trans World Airlines, Inc. v. Hardison,432 U.S. 63 (1977). Hardison was brought under section 703(a)(1) because it involved facts occurring before the enactment of section 701(j). The Court applied the Commission's 1967 Guidelines, but indicated that the result would be the same under section 701(j). It stated that Trans World Airlines had made reasonable efforts to accommodate the religious needs of its employee, Hardison. The Court held that to require Trans World Airlines to make further attempts at accommodations - by unilaterally violating a seniority provision of the collective bargaining agreement, paying premium wages on a regular basis to another employee to replace Hardison, or creating a serious shortage of necessary employees in another department in order to replace Hardison - would create an undue hardship on the conduct of Trans World Airlines' business, and would therefore, exceed the duty to accommodate Hardison.

In 1978, the Commission conducted public hearings on religious discrimination in New York City, Milwaukee, and Los Angeles in order to respond to the concerns raised by Hardison. Approximately 150 witnesses testified or submitted written statements. 5 The witnesses included employers, employees, representatives of religious and labor organizations and representatives of Federal, State and local governments.

5 The transcript of the Commission's Hearings on Religious Discrimination can be examined by the public at: The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, 131 M Street, NE., Washington, DC 20507.

The Commission found from the hearings that:

(1) There is widespread confusion concerning the extent of accommodation under the Hardison decision.

(2) The religious practices of some individuals and some groups of individuals are not being accommodated.

(3) Some of those practices which are not being accommodated are:

- Observance of a Sabbath or religious holidays;

- Need for prayer break during working hours;

- Practice of following certain dietary requirements;

- Practice of not working during a mourning period for a deceased relative;

- Prohibition against medical examinations;

- Prohibition against membership in labor and other organizations; and

- Practices concerning dress and other personal grooming habits.

(4) Many of the employers who testified had developed alternative employment practices which accommodate the religious practices of employees and prospective employees and which meet the employer's business needs.

(5) Little evidence was submitted by employers which showed actual attempts to accommodate religious practices with resultant unfavorable consequences to the employer's business. Employers appeared to have substantial anticipatory concerns but no, or very little, actual experience with the problems they theorized would emerge by providing reasonable accommodation for religious practices.

Based on these findings, the Commission is revising its Guidelines to clarify the obligation imposed by section 701(j) to accommodate the religious practices of employees and prospective employees.

[45 FR 72612, Oct. 31, 1980, as amended at 74 FR 3430, Jan. 21, 2009]