Employers faced with requests for religious accommodation sometimes find themselves searching for a balance between the employee’s beliefs and potential hardship to the company. Legal standards like “reasonable accommodation” and “undue hardship” can be difficult to translate when applied to real-world situations. One such situation, a recent case involving a Catholic pharmacist who would not speak even briefly about contraceptives to customers or doctors, gives a concrete example of the limits of religious accommodation in the workplace. Noesen v. Med. Staffing Network Inc. (7th Cir. May 2, 2007) (unpublished).

Noesen’s religious beliefs had already been accommodated by Wal-Mart by allowing him not to fill prescriptions for birth control, take orders for such prescriptions, or perform checks on orders. But when customers or doctors would call about birth control prescriptions, Noesen would place them on hold and not tell another staff person about the waiting call. Permitting this additional accommodation would work an undue hardship on the employer because Noesen’s accommodations would have placed a disproportionate share of duties with other staff, the court found. The case shows that an accommodation that redistributes work unfairly or takes other employees away from their normal duties is not required by law.