Religious Accommodation and Employee Safety
Question: We have an employee who works outdoors under varying weather conditions, including extreme heat. He is a devout Muslim and is currently observing Ramadan (going without food or fluids all day while working). We are concerned about his health. What can we do to keep him safe while accommodating his religious beliefs?
Answer: Religious accommodation issues can be sensitive, and employers must accommodate employees to the extent possible without undue hardship during Ramadan under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964. A reasonable religious accommodation is any adjustment to the work environment that will allow the employee to practice his religion.
Here are a few suggestions to mitigate your business risk and show your care to your employee:
Think about how you might accommodate his religious beliefs or practices by allowing flexible scheduling, voluntary substitutions or swaps, job reassignment and lateral transfer, or modification of workplace practices, policies, and/or procedures so he could work inside for all or part of the day in the air conditioning.
Have a discussion with him about your safety concerns—extreme heat, lack of fluids, etc. Let him know that you want to accommodate his religious beliefs, but you also care about him as a person and employee and do not want him to suffer any ill effects from the weather and lack of fluids. Ask him if he has any ideas to keep himself safe and healthy during this time. He may come up with a suggestion you haven’t thought of that will work for both of you.
During Ramadan, one accommodation you could consider is changing the work hours to earlier in the day. With an earlier shift, the employee can come to work before sunrise and after his pre-fasting breakfast meal. He can leave in the early afternoon, before the hottest part of the day. This schedule may help prevent exhaustion that could arise from lack of food and fluid.
Question: How should we notify our employees that they are under video surveillance at work?
Answer: Generally, the use of surveillance in the workplace is contentious due to employees’ common law expectations of privacy. Address this issue by notifying your workforce that they should not expect privacy in specific, public areas where notice is posted that video surveillance is occurring. Employees should also be notified about the areas that will not be monitored; for instance, employees have a reasonable expectation of privacy in bathrooms, dressing areas, and medical examination offices. The key to this policy is its reasonableness. Courts are typically supportive of what they consider “reasonable” policies that monitor open and public work areas; however, targeting a single employee’s work area, for example, may be considered intrusive.
Your policy should also explain why the surveillance is necessary and its goals (to increase safety, reduce loss, etc.). The policy should outline consequences for inappropriate behavior or policy violations that are observed through surveillance and the circumstances under which footage may be used for performance management.
The policy should also contain a signed, dated statement indicating that the employee has read and understood the policy. A best practice also includes researching local or state laws applicable to your workplace where an employee may have a right to privacy and not be subjected to video surveillance.
We recommend reviewing any new or updated policy with legal counsel prior to publication. This review is particularly important when dealing with privacy issues, which can result in penalties and even jail time if handled inappropriately. Best practice is to draft the policy in conjunction with legal counsel to ensure enforceability.
The American Bar Association offers an interesting article about the reasonable expectation of privacy.
Nevada enacts Domestic Workers’ Bill of Rights — STATE LAW
Nevada has enacted the Domestic Workers' Bill of Rights, which defines a "domestic worker" to mean a natural person who is paid by an employer to perform work of a domestic nature. The bill requires that employers of domestic workers supply the them with written documentation of the conditions of their employment and rights under the law. The bill also requires that domestic workers be compensated for all hours during which they are required to be on duty and are required to remain in the employer's household, except under certain circumstances in which domestic workers are employed at a residential facility.
Domestic workers who are paid less than one and one-half times the minimum hourly wage must be paid overtime wages under certain circumstances. Domestic workers must also be allowed at least 1 day off per week and 2 consecutive days off at least once per month.
The law will prohibit employers from limiting or monitoring a domestic worker's private communications or taking or holding workers’ personal documents. Limits are also set on the amount an employer may deduct from a worker's pay for lodging provided by the employer. Further, the bill revises the amounts an employer may deduct from a worker's pay for meals.
Source: S 232, Laws 2017, approved June 12, 2017, effective January 1, 2018.