Category Archives: Announcements

Employer May Not Refuse to Hire Applicant Based on Suspicion of Need For Religious Accommodation

Epic2arly last week, the U.S. Supreme Court handed down its decision in EEOC v. Abercrombie & Fitch Stores, Inc. In that case, a young Muslim woman who wore a hijab (a religious headscarf) to her interview was denied employment because the headscarf violated Abercrombie’s “look policy,” which did not allow head wear of any kind. Without discussing the policy with the applicant, Abercrombie simply denied her employment.  (For more about the facts of this case, see our previous post, How Explicit Must a Request for Religious Accommodation Be?)

The Supreme Court ultimately held that Abercrombie engaged in religious discrimination by refusing to hire the applicant, Samantha Elauf. In doing so, the court rejected Abercrombie’s argument that it didn’t actually know that Elauf wore the headscarf for religious reasons. The Court held that actual knowledge is not a requirement for religious discrimination under Title VII. It was enough that Abercrombie suspected that Elauf would need an accommodation and that this was the motivation behind its refusal to hire her.

The Court’s holding suggests that Abercrombie should have notified Elauf about the “look policy” during the application process and explored possible accommodations with her. The result makes practical sense. How would Elauf have known that she needed an accommodation if she wasn’t aware of the company’s “look policy”?

The takeaway from this decision is that employers need to consider offering religious accommodation to employees, even if the employees don’t specifically request it. When an employer has reason to suspect that an employee may need an accommodation, it should broach the topic with the employee. However, employers acting on such suspicions must be careful not to engage in stereotyping that could lead to discrimination claims.

The best approach is to stick to objective facts and company policy. For example, it could lead to trouble to ask an applicant, “Do you wear a headscarf because you are Muslim?” Instead, simply inform the applicant of the company’s established policy that head wear of any kind is not allowed, and then ask if that would present any issues for the applicant. This puts the ball in the employee’s court and gives her the opportunity to request a religious accommodation if she needs one. (For more information on religious accommodation, see our Religious Discrimination page.)

MORE IRS LENIENCY REGARDING 60 DAY ROLLOVER RULE

The Internal Revenue Code says that amounts withdrawn from an IRA are not taxable as long as the entire amount is “rolled” back into the same or another IRA no later than 60 days after the distribution. Sometimes taxpayers don’t quite comply with the 60 day timeline for one reason or another, and the same Internal Revenue Code does enable IRS to allow more time in cases where failure to do so would be against equity or good conscience, including casualty, disaster, or other events beyond the reasonable control of the individual subject to such requirement.

In PLR 201523023, IRS did just that in a case where the taxpayer’s failure to accomplish a timely rollover was due to an IRA custodian’s administrative procedure of not accepting “starter checks.”

INTENT DICTATES CHARACTER OF REAL ESTATE GAIN

Check out the decision in Fargo and King (TC Memo 2015-96) for a refresher on the rules regarding whether real estate gains are capital versus ordinary, depending on whether the property was “held” for development, as opposed to an investment purpose.

The courts typically analyze various factors when this issue arises, in evaluating whether a taxpayer “held” property primarily for sale to customers in the ordinary course of business, including:

~The purpose for which the property was originally acquired
~The purpose for which the property was subsequently held
~The extent to which improvements, if any, were made to
the property by the taxpayer
~The frequency, number and continuity of sales
~The extent and nature of the transactions involved
~The ordinary business of the taxpayer
~The extent of advertising, promotion, or other active
efforts used in soliciting buyers for the sale of the
property
~The listing of property with brokers
~The purpose for which the property was held at the
time of sale

DON’T FORGET THE TAXPAYER ADVOCATE

The Taxpayer Advocate Service is an independent organization within IRS, whose role is to protect taxpayers’ rights and ensure that all taxpayers are treated fairly.

Among other things, the Advocate:

~Helps individuals, businesses and exempt organizations in a myriad of ways

~Helps in cases where the taxpayer’s IRS problem is causing a financial difficulty or, most commonly, in cases where IRS procedure has simply bogged down and the taxpayer is trapped in a morass of red tape with no resolution of the problem in sight.

If this is you, check out www.taxpayeradvocate.irs.gov.

USEFUL IRS INFO FOR THOSE IN THE MILITARY

In recognition of National Military Appreciation Month, IRS has recently updated its “Armed Forces Tax Guide” (Publication 3) which contains good information and important reminders of some tax benefits unique to members of the military, including:

~Combat pay – partly or totally tax free
~Moving expenses – deduction available for eligible items
~Tax return due date – service members stationed abroad
have until June 15 to file, and those in a combat zone
have even longer – typically up to 180 days after they
leave the combat zone

Check out Publication 3 for more.