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Examples of Religious Discrimination in the Workplace

Deciding whether and how to practice religion is a very personal choice. It's at the core of the First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution. Federal constitutional law provides that everyone in the United States has the right to practice their religion. This freedom is often litigated as one of our most protected rights under federal law.

What if your religious beliefs come into conflict with a co-worker's rights? What if your practices are vastly different from those around you? What if, as a result, you experience religious discrimination? This article examines examples of religious discrimination in the workplace and what protections are available.

Laws Protecting Citizens From Religious Discrimination

The establishment clause of the First Amendment prevents the government from creating or promoting any religion. You might practice Christianity, Buddhism, Islam, or Judaism, among others. Your neighbor may be a Sikh, and your best friend may be a Muslim. Regardless of your belief, the government cannot "establish" an official religion.

How Does Title VII of the Civil Rights Act Come into Play?

Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 is a part of the most important civil rights legislation of our time. Among other things, this law prohibits an employer from discriminating against an employee's religious practices. For example, your employer can't make any of these employment decisions on the basis of religion:

  • Hiring
  • Firing
  • Other terms and conditions of employment

An employer's business must reasonably accommodate your religious practices. However, there is a limit. The employer doesn't have to provide an accommodation if it creates an undue hardship for the employer.

Title VII's protections extend to current and prospective employees. That means employers must not discriminate against job applicants and must reasonably accommodate them.

What Is a 'Reasonable Accommodation'?

reasonable religious accommodation is a change to the work environment to allow you to observe religious observances or practice your religion. Examples include:

  • Flexible scheduling
  • Voluntary substitutions or swaps
  • Job reassignments
  • Lateral transfers

"Religious beliefs" can include both theistic and nontheistic traditions. That means the term covers those who believe in God or multiple gods in the traditional sense as well as those whose spiritual beliefs do not strictly depend on a deity. The definition includes people with more nontheistic moral or ethical beliefs about right and wrong. They must sincerely hold their beliefs with the strength of traditional religious views.

Prohibited Actions by an Employer

There are many actions your employer should avoid to comply with the law regarding religious activity. For example, they should not:

  • Schedule activities that conflict with an employee's or applicant's religious needs
  • Inquire about an applicant's future availability at certain times
  • Maintain a restrictive dress code, including rules that would prohibit a head covering (e.g., headscarf, hijab, yarmulke) or other religious dress
  • Refuse to allow observance of a Sabbath or religious holiday
  • Refuse to recruit, hire, or promote a person because they are of a particular religion
  • Impose different work requirements because of an employee's religious beliefs or practices
  • Impose stricter promotion requirements for workers of a particular religion
  • Refuse to hire an applicant solely because they don't follow a particular religion
  • Refuse to hire an applicant because they may need a reasonable accommodation
  • Refuse to consider an applicant because they have a name associated with a particular religion or national origin

Remember, your employer doesn't have to provide a religious accommodation if it can show that doing so will cause an undue hardship.

Additional Resources

You may have questions about religious harassment and other forms of religious discrimination. FindLaw can help you continue your research. Click on the links below to learn more about religion and the law.

Talk to an Attorney Today About Religious Discrimination

Are you concerned about religious discrimination in your work environment? These kinds of issues can be sensitive. It's essential to know that you have rights. It's even more important to know that there are employment law experts who can help you understand those rights and how to take action.

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