Created by FindLaw's team of legal writers and editors | Last reviewed June 20, 2016
The federal government protects against discrimination based on religion, along with race, sex, age, and disability. As long as an employee's religious practices do not genuinely interfere with the performance of his or her duties, the employer cannot base hiring, firing, promotion, or compensation decisions based on that employee's religion. Of course, it can be difficult to determine whether an employer's decisions were motivated by religion, genuine concerns about an employee's performance, or some other, more subjective factors. Proper education and preparation can help you spot potential violations of the employment discrimination laws. Click through the articles in this section to learn all about religious discrimination in the workplace.
Religion in the Workplace
The First Amendment provides two freedoms with respect to religion; the right to be free from government-imposed religion, and the right to practice any religion. Although neither of these rights directly relates to private employers they remain subject to state and federal laws that ban religious discrimination in employment. These laws seek to protect the right of workers to hold religious beliefs and to keep their religious practices, which may include religious garments or hairstyle, avoidance of certain speech or behavior, or the observance of religious holidays.
The statute that most commonly protects the rights of workers from discrimination on account of their religion is Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964. Title VII prohibits private employers from discrimination on the basis of race, color, sex, or national origin in addition to religion. State laws also frequently forbid discrimination on account of religion. Courts, in interpreting these laws, have recognized various forms of prohibited discrimination.
- Disparate Treatment Discrimination - is an overt form of discrimination where workers are treated differently because of their religion. A business that is religious in nature may be permitted to require employees to adhere to a specific faith, but courts will closely examine the legitimacy of the requirement.
- Disparate Impact Discrimination - is a more subtle form of discrimination in which there is no express policy of discrimination, but a policy functions to effectively discriminate against a religion. A rule forbidding men from wearing a head covering at work could conflict with a religion, such as the Sikh religion, that requires adherents to cover their head in public.
- Hostile Work Environment Discrimination - is when the employer maintains or allows a work environment where harassment, abuse, or intimidation of employees of a particular faith takes place. A simple disagreement wouldn't typically create a hostile work environment, but severe insults, threats, or continuing words and actions intended to intimidate or harass an employee for their religious faith would. Employers are held responsible if they knew, or should have known of the harassment.
Duty to Accommodate an Employee's Religion
An employer has a duty to accommodate the religious beliefs of their employees, though as with other employer accommodations this is subject to some limitations. Accommodations that would be unduly burdensome for the employer are generally not required. Asking, for example, to trade shifts to avoid working on a religious holiday would likely be seen as reasonable, but a request to have a holy month off of work each year would likely be found to be unduly burdensome. Limitations that impact the ability to conduct business altogether are also likely to be unduly burdensome.
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