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Employment Blog

EEOC Gains Upper Hand in Biometric Time Clock Religious Discrimination Case

Authored by Ruder Ware Attorneys
Posted on January 22, 2015
Filed under Employment

Let’s face it, not all employees are saints—unfortunately, there will always be that one employee who brazenly decides to color outside of the lines. Recently, several clients have asked me for my opinion about biometric time clocks - in response to “buddy punching,” or falsification of time-cards and other electronic time-management records.  Biometric time clocks are becoming increasingly popular—I even found one available at Sam’s Club [which is one of my litmus tests of mainstream acceptance]. Biometric time clocks utilize biometric hand or fingerprint scanning technology to verify employee presence at work based upon each employee’s unique biological identifiers. “Buddy punching” problem solved, right? Well…not so fast.

As I’ve shared with our clients, one risk of utilizing biometric technology, which once was purely theoretical, is the risk of religious discrimination. More specifically, we have long speculated that the use of biometric technology may conflict with employee religious beliefs and observances. Well, what once was theoretical is now reality. The EEOC sued Consol Energy, Inc. over its use of biometric technology in the workplace. According to court documents, one of Consol’s employees objected, based upon his Evangelical Christian beliefs, to the use of this biometric hand scanning technology to track time and attendance, and Consol allegedly failed to reasonably accommodate this employee’s religious beliefs, prompting the lawsuit. 

The objecting employee suggested two alternatives to the use of biometric scanning in connection with his employment: (1) manual completion of time cards; or (2) use of a standard time clock. According to court documents, the EEOC asserts that Consol rejected these suggested solutions, even though it exempted other employees, who had missing fingers, from recording time and attendance through the biometric time clock. According to court records, Consol claimed that the employee’s suggested accommodations created an undue hardship on its business. The case went to trial.

On, January 15, 2015, a jury returned a verdict in favor of the employee, and awarded compensatory damages of $150,000 [a copy of the verdict form is available here: EEOC v. Consol Energy]. The jury ultimately concluded that the employee possessed a sincerely held religious belief that conflicted with a work requirement [using the biometric time clock conflicted with his Evangelical Christian beliefs], that the employee informed Consol about his religious belief and the conflict between his religious beliefs and the company’s work rule, and that Consol failed to reasonably accommodate the employee. According to reports, Consol may be in the process of filing an appeal.

Biometric time management technology is viewed by many as the newest [and best] solution to an old problem. It may be—but employers that utilize this technology must be mindful of the possibility of conflicting religious beliefs and anticipate possible accommodations. Our employment attorneys will continue to keep our own fingers on the pulse of this evolving area of law—we’ll keep you posted.