In a recent court ruling from the US Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals, the court upheld an employer’s decision not to hire an individual for refusing to provide his Social Security number (SSN) for religious beliefs. In the case (Yeager v. FirstEnergy Generation Corp.), the individual had earlier disavowed his SSN, believing that his identification by any number — including by SSN — caused him to have the "Mark of the Beast" prohibited by his religion. Since federal law requires employers to collect employees’ SSNs (federal tax purposes), the company did not hire him. The individual later sued, claiming that the company violated Title VII by refusing to reasonably accommodate his stated religious beliefs. The court noted that the requirement of providing the SSN was a legal requirement and not an employment requirement and also that Title VII does not require an employer to reasonably accommodate an employee’s religious beliefs if the accommodation would violate a federal statute.
Under Title VII, covered employers are required to make reasonable accommodations for the religious beliefs of their employees provided that these accommodations do not constitute an “undue hardship.” This duty to accommodate extends to any sincerely held religious belief and even covers employees or applicants who are not members of a recognized church. According to the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC), which enforces Title VII, employers must consider reasonable alternatives of accommodating the religious beliefs of both job applicants and employees and to offer “the alternative which would least disadvantage the employment opportunities of the individual.” However, an employer may lawfully refuse to accommodate the religious needs of an employee if it would cause undue hardship or involve more than a de minimus cost to the company. The need for accommodation and determination of whether it would involve more than a de minimus cost are issues that must be decided on a case-by-case basis.
To read the case, go to http://www.ca6.uscourts.gov/opinions.pdf/15a0018p-06.pdf. The U.S. Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit reviews appeals from the federal district courts in Kentucky, Michigan, Ohio and Tennessee, and from the U.S. Tax Court and certain federal administrative agencies where the non-governmental parties are from the states that make up the Sixth Circuit.