Saturday, March 13, 2010

UNEMPLOYMENT INSURANCE - VOLUNTARY SEPARATION

A recent consultation raised the issue of religious beliefs and separation from work. The general rule, according to the Appeals Board website, is that one's refusal to attend work or to perform tasks which would violate one's religious beliefs is not disqualifying, as per AB 452,775:

"The credible evidence establishes that the claimant voluntarily left her employment because the employer could not relieve her from having to serve birthday cakes to customers, which act would violate her religious beliefs. The claimant took reasonable steps to protect her employment by suggesting alternative arrangements to the employer but due to the employer's size the employer, acting in good faith, could not reasonably accommodate claimant's religious beliefs. In the absence of any compelling State interest justifying the infringement of religious liberties, the State cannot deny unemployment insurance benefits because of conduct mandated by religious belief. Accordingly, we conclude that the claimant voluntarily left her job with good cause."

The comments to this case state:

"1. Claimant in this case had advised the employer at the time of hire of her religious beliefs. Based on her beliefs, she would not perform specific tasks. When the employer advised her that it would no longer accommodate her restrictions, claimant quit her job with good cause.

2. In another case (AB 433,355, not published) claimant's continued refusal to work on Sundays because of his religious beliefs is not misconduct. Claimant need not document membership in an established religious sect to demonstrate a sincerely held religious belief.

3. See also A750-2017, regarding Refusal of Employment"

But issues can arise when the employee's religious beliefs are not explained at the time of hire, or have changed after hire. And if the employee quits, the employer may also allege incidents of misconduct that led to the voluntary separation. Thus, my suggestion to employees who are faced with this situation, consult with an attorney, consult with the EEOC, and begin their documentation early, etc. before they voluntary quit.

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