Religious Discrimination at Work – Your Legal Rights

Employers are prohibited from discriminating against any person based upon religious grounds and must make reasonable efforts to accommodate an employee’s practice of their religion.

Workplace Discrimination Based upon Religion is Prohibited

Under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act under federal law and also in many state laws, employers are prohibited from discriminating against any employee based upon their religious beliefs. This means that it is against the law for an employer to make job decisions based upon the religious beliefs of the employee. Employers must treat their employees equally – they cannot treat employees differently due to their religious beliefs.

The challenge in dealing with religious discrimination is that religion is a belief and not a characteristic of a person, such as is the case with a person’s age, gender or race. Some religions require believers to express themselves to follow that religion, whether it means wearing certain clothing or religious items, not cutting their hair, wearing a Yarmulke (skull cap) or telling others about their religious beliefs.

An Employees Right to be Accommodated

An employer must reasonably accommodate an employee’s rights to practice their religious beliefs unless doing so would cause an “undue hardship” for the company. The company is required to try to find a reasonable way to find a solution to a conflict, such as finding a way not to schedule work for the employee on his or her Sabbath day or allowing an employee to wear religious garments to work if it doesn’t intrude in the general manner of the work, e.g. a back room worker does not have the same issues of visibility as a group of employees who all wear the same uniform. An “undue hardship” would be one where accommodations could impose more than just a minor cost to the company or could significantly disrupt the work atmosphere or the morale of the other employees. If an employee claims a need for two Sabbath days during the work week but the company has no work on weekends, it could be a significant financial imposition to hire such an employee in a full time position. An example of an accommodation would be allowing the employee to have his or her Sabbath day off but without having to pay that employee or having the employee make up the work on another off-day, if it is possible to do so without significant business interruption.

Religious Discrimination in the Courts

As you can see, this area of law regarding discrimination in the workplace is rather amorphous and each situation is different. There have been various different rulings with regard to the level of employer accommodation and what might constitute work disruption. In fact, some courts have found that an employer may not need to greatly accommodate an employee’s religious practice if doing so might conflict with the employer’s diversity initiatives and non-discrimination policies. Some courts have found that accommodating some religious expressions on the job could cause an annoyance that is significantly uncomfortable for others in the workplace.

More Information about Religious Discrimination in the Workplace

If you feel you have been the victim of religious discrimination, you can get more information about discrimination on religious grounds and what to do from your local EEOC (Equal Employment Opportunity Commission) office – www.eeoc.gov.  You can also contact your state fair employment practices agency for similar information.  You should be aware however that there are time limits in place for making a complaint with a government agency or for filing a lawsuit so you should try not to miss these. You should also consider contacting a lawyer to discuss your rights. Many attorneys will give you a free case review and may take your case for free or on a “contingency basis” if they believe there is sufficient evidence to make a claim for religious discrimination.

Michael M Wechsler, Esq.

Michael M. Wechsler is an experienced attorney, founder of TheLaw.com and of-counsel to Kaplan, Williams & Graffeo, LLC. He was also an SVP and chief Internet strategist at Zedge.net and legal consultant at Kroll Ontrack, a leading service e-discovery and computer forensics service provider.

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