Religious discrimination describes situations in which an employer treats an employee unfairly or unequally due to his or her religious beliefs or practices. No matter what type of religion an employee practices, an employer must not violate certain protected rights involving the practice of religion in the workplace. Such discrimination is prohibited under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act, a law enforced by the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC).

It is important to note that the law prohibits religious discrimination when it comes to almost every employment practice, including, hiring, firing, salary, wages, promotions and benefits. In addition, the law also extends to prevent religious discrimination against employees who are married to someone who practices a particular religion.

Title VII prohibits discrimination on a number of grounds including race, color, national origin, age, sex and disability. Religion is also included as a protected category of rights which employers must not violate and which must be accommodated unless the accommodation would cause the business undue hardship.

An Employer Must Accommodate Reasonable Religion-Based Requests

In terms of accommodation, the law requires an employer to assist employees who make certain requests involving the practice of religion at work. For instance, an employee may request time set aside to pray and a private area for devotion or worship. Unless such requests are unreasonably costly, hazardous or otherwise burdensome to a business, an employee must meet the request by law.

Workplace Harassment Based on Religion is Also Illegal

Not only is it illegal for employers to discriminate against employers based on religion, it is also illegal for employers to harass or allow harassment based on religion. Religious harassment may occur in a number of forms. Co-workers may repeatedly make offensive comments about an employee’s religious beliefs. Supervisors may exclude or segregate workers based on a worker’s beliefs. Each of these practices could be illegal under Title VII.

However, courts will not rule that harassment has occurred unless an employee can prove that an employer’s conduct created a hostile work environment. This means that the offensive, anti-religious conduct occurred repeatedly and/ or was so pervasive and severe that it prevented the employee from performing his her job duties.  An employer can be held liable when the harasser is a supervisor, manager, co-worker or even a client or customer of the business.

Title VII and Religious Dress and Styles

Sometimes, religious discrimination takes the form of employer prohibitions against religious garb or dress. In these instances, the law is clear. An employer is legally obligated to accommodate an employee’s religions dress or styles (headscarves, facial hair, etc.) unless it would cause undue hardship to the business. This includes employee’s practicing sincerely held beliefs – not just those practicing traditional or well-known religions such as Judaism, Islam, or Christianity.

Discriminatory Employment Policies or Practices

Religious discrimination could also involve an employment policy or practice that an employee does wish to participate in due to religious convictions. However, the law is also clear on this point. Employees cannot be forced or coerced to participate in religious activities or other practices at work that would violate their rights to practice religion freely under the First Amendment or the right to remain free from religious discrimination while at work under Title VII.

If you feel you have been the victim of religious discrimination at work, contact Shegerian & Associates today. Our experienced attorneys are well-versed in employment law and standing by to get you the justice you deserve.