Workplace rules can be grounds for a discrimination claim


A recent story that attracted national news attention may be of interest to Rhode Island employees who feel that their employers impose rules and other practices that violate the moral and religious principles. After all, what might seem on the surface like a well-reasoned rule may, particularly if it is applied without any flexibility, be the grounds for a religious discrimination or other workplace discrimination claim.

In another state recently, the federal government sued a nursing home, alleging that the home had committed unlawful religious discrimination. Perhaps because it deals with sick, elderly patients, the home required all employees to get a flu vaccine. One employee objected, saying that doing so would violate her deeply held religious beliefs about the human body.

Instead of coming up with a compromise, the employer refused to back down and gave the woman an ultimatum either to take the vaccine or get fired. In the wake of the lawsuit, it has come to light that the employer has changed its practice and now does not require employees to take the vaccine.

However, employees will be expected to document their religious beliefs and, if they do not take the vaccine, will be expected to wear a mask when around certain aging patients when flu season is in full swing.

This story should give Rhode Island employees assurance that the law will protect their religious beliefs, even if they are personal in nature or particular just to a small group of people. Employers in Rhode Island be careful that their rules, however well-intentioned, do not violate the rights of others to be free of religious discrimination. If they fail to do so, employees may have legal options.

Source: Newsweek, "Employee forced to get flu shot or face termination suing for religious discrimination," Dana Dovey, March 9, 2018.

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