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Facts About Religious Discrimination

The Civil Rights Act of 1964 generally provides U.S. citizens and residents protection from various forms of discrimination in a variety of situations, including employer discrimination. Under Title VII of the Act, employers are prohibited from discriminating against job applicants or employees based on their race, color, religion, sex, or national origin. It's important to note that this law applies to employers that employ 15 or more employees. However, it's still a good idea to avoid employment discrimination even if you have less than 15 employees, especially since many state laws apply to smaller employers.

This article focuses on the how employers can avoid policies and practices that could be considered religious discrimination. Very generally, Title VII of the Act prohibits employers from discriminating against an individual because of his or her religion when hiring, firing, or during the course of the individual's employment. The Act also requires employers to reasonably accommodate the religious practices of an employee or prospective employee, unless doing so would create an undue hardship upon the employer.

You can visit FindLaw's section on Religious Discrimination to find more information and resources about this topic.

Providing Reasonable Accommodations

Employers are not only required to avoid discriminating against a person for his or her religion, but must also provide reasonable accommodations for the religious beliefs and practices of employees or prospective employees. Some examples of reasonable accommodations are flexible scheduling, voluntary substitutions or swaps, job reassignments, and lateral transfers. However, if the accommodation would cause the employer undue hardship, the employer is not required to provide the accommodation.

For example, if accommodation of the applicant or employee's religious practice would cost the employer more than ordinary administrative costs, the employer can claim undue hardship without getting in trouble for religious discrimination at work. Other times that an accommodation could cause undue hardship are in cases where an accommodation would:

  • Diminish the efficiency of other jobs
  • Infringe on the rights or benefits of another employee
  • Impair workplace safety
  • Cause co-workers to carry the accommodated employee's share of potentially hazardous or burdensome work
  • Conflict with another law or regulation

Finally, undue hardship may also be shown if the request for accommodation violates job rights established through a seniority system or the terms of a collective bargaining agreement.

Ways to Avoid Religious Discrimination

As a small business owner, it's always a good idea to have some anti-discrimination and harassment policies in place. In fact, many state laws, and some federal laws, require employers that meet certain criteria to establish and maintain such policies. These policies can be very general, but if your business is required by law to have such policies, be sure to include the language and content that the law requires. There are other steps that employers should take to avoid religious discrimination.

For example, employers can't schedule examinations or other selection activities in conflict with a current or prospective employee's religious needs, ask about an applicant's future availability at certain times, maintain a restrictive dress code, or refuse to allow observance of a Sabbath or religious holiday. However, the employer can act in these usually restricted ways if he or she can prove that not doing so would cause undue hardship to the employer.

An employee whose religious practices prohibit payment of union dues to a labor organization can't be required to pay the dues but may pay an equal sum to a charitable organization. Also, while mandatory training programs designed to improve employee motivation, cooperation or productivity through mediation, yoga, or other similar practices may seem harmless, they could conflict with the non-discriminatory provisions of Title VII. For this reason, employers must accommodate any employee who gives notice that these programs are inconsistent with the employee's religious beliefs, whether or not the employer believes that there is a religious basis for the employee's objection.

Finally, keep in mind that it's illegal to retaliate against an individual for opposing employment practices that discriminate based on religion. It's also illegal to retaliate against a person filing a discrimination charge, testifying, or participating in any way in an investigation, proceeding or litigation under Title VII.

Getting Legal Help

If you have any questions about religious discrimination, you may want to contact a local employment lawyer to make sure your policies or practices are in line with the law.

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