At the outset it is important to understand that the employee is responsible for raising a religious-based objection to union membership, support, or association. In order to establish an employer or union violation of Title VII's statutory duty to accommodate religious belief, an employee must demonstrate the following:

  1. That the employee maintains a sincerely held religious belief that compels him to refrain from joining, supporting, or associating with a union as a condition of continued employment;

  2. That the employee communicated his religious objection to his employer and union; and,

  3. That the employee was discharged for failing to tender union dues or agency fees.76

Once the employee meets the burden of establishing these three points, the burden shifts to the union to prove that it could not reasonably accommodate the employee's religious beliefs without suffering an undue hardship.77

1) Be Certain of Your Religious Beliefs

The sincerity of the employee's religious belief is rarely in dispute in Title VII cases; however, questions concerning the religious nature of the belief can arise. Therefore, the employee should be careful to honestly determine whether his objection to joining, supporting, or otherwise associating with a labor organization is religiously based.78 If the employee's reasons for avoiding union membership fall outside of his religious beliefs, he should consider pursuing other legal channels available to employees, such as implementing Beck rights.80

2) Make Your Objection Known

It is up to the employee to put the union and employer on notice that he has religiously based objections to joining, funding, or otherwise associating with the union. A written objection is advisable, clearly stating in detail the nature of the employee's religious beliefs, describing how those beliefs conflict with existing work requirements, requesting an accommodation of those beliefs, and offering suggestions that the employee believes are reasonable and sufficient to eliminate the conflict.

3) Cooperation Is Key

While employees ought not to compromise on matters of religious conviction, it is wise to approach a conflict with a view toward working collaboratively to arrive at a reasonable accommodation. Recall that an "undue hardship" is sufficient for a union to reject your proffered accommodations, providing the cost imposed by the "hardship" can be demonstrated.

When a satisfactory outcome cannot be reached by the parties privately, it may be necessary to proceed with a legal charge of religious discrimination.