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Accommodate Religious Beliefs Even When You Don’t Believe

When I was the HR manager of a local business, I suggested to management that a hand scanner be installed to track employee time and attendance. At that time, employees clocked in and out with a card that they swiped through a scanner. Some employees frequently forgot their cards, so the hand scanner was my solution to ensuring their time was recorded properly. I thought it was very James Bond-ish; the employees thought it was a yucky hotbed of germs. To my knowledge, none of them thought it was giving them the mark of the beast and damning them to hell.  

That was essentially what Beverly R. Butcher, Jr. told company officials at Consolidation Coal Company after a biometric hand scanner was installed there. Butcher had worked as a general inside laborer at the company’s mine in Mannington, W. V. for over 35 years when the scanner appeared. As an Evangelical Christian, Butcher believed that putting his hand in the scanner would give him the mark of the beast and refused to do it.

In case you’re unfamiliar with the term, the mark of the beast is from the Book of Revelation in the New Testament of the Bible.  The beast is the Antichrist and a mark is placed on the hand or forehead of his followers in order to buy and sell anything at the end of time. Some Evangelical organizations have warned their followers that technology such as hand scanners may eventually be used to imprint the mark of the beast.

You’ve probably figured out that having this mark is not a good thing. According to scripture, “If anyone worships the beast and his image and receives his mark on the forehead or on the hand, he too will drink of the wine of God’s fury…and he will be tormented with burning sulfur in the presence of the holy angels and of the Lamb…There is no rest day or night for those who worship the beast and his image, or for anyone who receives the mark of his name.”

Butcher repeatedly told company officials that he could not use the scanner because it violated his religious beliefs, explained the relationship between the hand scanner and the mark of the beast, and requested an accommodation. According to the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, the company refused to consider any other way of tracking Butcher’s time and told him he would be disciplined up to and including termination if he refused to use the hand scanner. So, Butcher retired and the EEOC sued.

The federal jury in Clarksburg, W.V. that heard the case found that Consolidation Coal Company and its parent company CONSOL Energy, Inc. refused to grant a reasonable accommodation for Butcher’s religious beliefs, which is a violation of Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964. Butcher was awarded $586,860 in lost wages and benefits and compensatory damages.

If you think it’s crazy for anyone to believe that a hand scanner could imprint the mark of the beast and unjust that an employer would be required to accommodate an employee because of thinking that it could, you should know this: religious beliefs need not be seen as rational, doctrinally consistent, or accurate in order to be protected under Title VII.

If an employee asks for an accommodation because of religious beliefs, employers need to engage in the interactive process to determine whether a reasonable accommodation can be found – even when they don’t believe in the beliefs.

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Disclaimer: The information and resources provided herein are not a substitute for experienced legal counsel and does not constitute legal advice or attempt to address the numerous factual issues that inevitably arise in any employment-related dispute. Although this information attempts to cover some major recent developments, it is not all-inclusive, and any recommendations are based upon HR best practices and procedures. We recommend you consult an attorney for legal guidance.

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