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Employer's Good Safety Record Equals Employee's Path to Hell

With a title like this one you may be wondering if thoughts of turkey have gotten the best of me.  You might also wonder how a good safety record can be bad.  As with all good tales about employment law cases, the devil is in the details--in this case literally.  So here goes. 

It seems an employer had quite a run of work days without an accident or injury.  Most of you are probably thinking that's great news for the employer, and I would agree.  As with a lot of employer safety programs, this employer proudly displayed the number of days without an incident.  This display was done via a safety calendar and by the employees wearing stickers designating the number of days without incident.  So far so good.  As the number of days without incident continued to increase, it would seem like cause to celebrate.  And for most employees it was a positive thing.  But for one employee, concern and dread began to settle in.  As the number continued to grow and rolled over 600 days without incident, our worried employee began to highlight the impending doom of getting to 666 days without incident.  As the number continued to inch higher, the employee notified the employer that wearing 666--the "mark of the beast"--was forbidden by his religious belief. 

And this is where the real problem with this great safety record began.  As luck (good or bad, you be the judge) might have it, no safety incidents occurred and day 666 arrived.  The employee, in an attempt to avoid being condemned to hell, asked to be excused from wearing a sticker bearing the mark of the beast.  Rather than accommodate the employee, the employer allegedly called the employee's belief ridiculous and refused his request not to wear the number 666.  You can guess the rest of the story.  The employee refused to wear the number 666, and he was suspended and later fired. 

Assuming the true facts of the case are like those laid out in the employee's recently filed lawsuit, this is a prime example of an employer failing to properly handle a request for a religious accommodation.  The important thing to remember with all accommodation requests is to engage in a dialogue with your employee as a first step.  This interactive accommodation process is critical for employers to be able to demonstrate the proper handling of a request.  You may ultimately decide not to accommodate a request after evaluating the burdens associated with the accommodation.  Defending that failure to accommodate is much easier when the interactive process has occurred.

For the news release on this recently filed lawsuit click here.


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Don Berner, the Labor Law, OSHA, & Immigration Law Guy
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Boyd Byers, the General Employment Law Guy
Jason Lacey Image
Jason Lacey, the Employee Benefits Guy
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