Bearing Burdens: Religious Accommodations that Adversely Affect Coworker Morale
51 Pages Posted: 19 Aug 2014 Last revised: 2 Apr 2015
Date Written: July 31, 2014
This Article addresses the conflict that arises when accommodating an employee’s religious beliefs threatens coworker morale. Research overwhelmingly shows morale is crucial to both individual and organizational performance. Because perceptions of equity and fairness greatly influence morale, an accommodation that affords an employee preferential treatment can cause resentment, jealousy, and anger among coworkers — particularly if the accommodation negatively impacts the working conditions of other employees. Despite the unequivocal importance of coworker morale, some courts are hesitant to acknowledge it as a legitimate basis for denying a religious accommodation. Consequently, the case law is uneven and confusing. To ensure courts give coworker morale the protection it warrants, I argue courts should: (1) distinguish between valid and invalid reasons why an accommodation threatens morale; (2) accept harm to employee morale as a sufficient basis to deny an accommodation without requiring further proof of how lowered morale hurts an employer’s business; and (3) allow an employer to establish undue hardship based on the reasonable likelihood an accommodation would harm morale. These changes will help strike the appropriate balance between an individual’s freedom of religious expression, an employer’s right to maintain a high-morale workplace, and coworkers’ expectations of performing their jobs without undue interference.
Keywords: religion, religious accommodation, religious discrimination, employment discrimination, coworker, other employees, morale, job satisfaction
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