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“An employer’s mere contention that it could not reasonably accommodate an employee is insufficient,” according to the Supreme Judicial Court in MBTA v. MCAD, decided Friday.

A person granted a conditional offer of employment had religious beliefs which prohibited him from working Friday evenings, and the MBTA then rescinded the offer, stating that to accommodate him would pose an undue hardship. The MBTA did not explore the options available, including voluntary employee shift swapping.

“In the absence of evidence demonstrating a contractual bar to voluntary employee swaps, or other interference with employer operations, requiring an employer to facilitate such swaps as a means of accommodating the religious observances of its employees will not be considered undue hardship.”

The court did not require “an investigative or interactive process” in all cases, however. An “employer is not required to engage in fruitless dialogue if it is absolutely clear no accommodation could be made without undue hardship. Such a demonstration, however, will often be difficult to make without the employer’s having engaged in an interactive process with the employee and having made a good faith effort to explore the options that come out of such a process. The MBTA has amply demonstrated this point in the case before us.”

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