Religious discrimination is still a problem in the workplace, and as tolerances for certain types of religious beliefs and practices ebb and flow or even wane in the workplace, the need for legal avenues to combat it increases. Religion in the workplace is not a new concept, and much of the law surrounding it centers on employers treating workers unfairly simply because they practice a particular religion.

Religious bias of this sort is prohibited under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act. The Act states that certain protected categories of workers should be free from discrimination while at work. These include categories based on race, color, national origin, age, sex, disability and religion. In addition, the practice of religion both at work and in general, receives protection under the First Amendment of the Constitution.

Perhaps one of the most modern applications of the religions discrimination provisions of Title VII is to prevent an employee from being forced to practice or observe a particular religion at work. Employees who hold religious belief can sometimes clash with those who do not hold the same beliefs or with those who do not practice religion at all. When these clashes lead to discrimination, the law steps in to remedy the situation.

How the Law Views the Practice of Religion in the Workplace

As mentioned, Title VII covers the practice of religion in the workplace, prohibiting companies with 15 or more employees from treating workers unfairly based on religious beliefs and practices. This protection applies to discrimination in any form of the employment process including, hiring, firing, promotions, leave, salary, wages and benefits.

When Title VII is violated and an employer is found liable, it means courts have held that an employer based on the actions of one of  its employees has either treated a religious worker differently from other employees, or has allowed harassment of a religious worker to continue despite being aware the harassment is occurring.

It could also mean that a worker is being forced to observe the religious practices of another worker or that an employer has retaliated against an employer who has complained about religious discrimination.

What Happens When An Employee Takes Action Against Religious Discrimination?

When an employee decides to take action against religious discrimination, he or she may start by filing a complaint with supervisors. This complaint could allege unfair treatment based on the religion, such as being passed up for promotion due to religious garb, or it may involve a report of religious-based harassment. This means the employee has experienced severe and pervasive offensive conduct, remarks or behavior specifically directed at him or her based on religion.

Once a complaint is filed or simply brought to the attention of supervisors or managers, an employer has duty to respond with reasonable methods to end the discrimination or harassment. Without a reasonable response, the employer could be exposed to religious discrimination liability and the penalties for that can be quite stiff.

Penalties and Remedies for Religious Discrimination

Employment discrimination law aims to put a discrimination employee back in the position he or she would have been in had the discrimination not occurred. This could mean an employer is required to pay back wages, or front pay or it could have to pay even more if the discrimination is found to be intentional. If so, both compensatory and punitive damages are involved.

This means that an employer might have to pay for such incidental costs as therapy or psychologic evaluation that come as a result of religious discrimination. Punitive damages may also be awarded as a form of punishment for intentionally reckless forms of religious discrimination.  For large companies, these damages could be as much as $300,000.

5 Ways to Eradicate Religious Discrimination in the Workplace

With consequences like these, the incentive to eradicate religious discrimination from the workplace is extremely high. It is important that employers take reasonable precautions when addressing religious discrimination complaints.

1. Post religious discrimination notices.

One of the best ways to prevent religious discrimination on the job is to post notices throughout the workplace describing what religious discrimination is and stressing it will not be tolerated in the workplace. In fact, any time the EEOC settles a religious discrimination case, one of the main requirements from the employer is to post notice about religious discrimination and explain the complaint process to workers.

2. Give workers religious discrimination training.

Often one of the reasons religious discrimination occurs is because workers are unaware of exactly what type of behavior makes it illegal. By providing training on religious discrimination, employees teach and demonstrate to their workers what religious discrimination is and send the message that it is not acceptable. Trainings can consist of providing information on the law as well as on company policy surrounding the issue.

3. Take on a no tolerance policy.

It is always important to stress that religious discrimination will not be tolerated – even if it already seems obvious. Employees need to understand that your company is not simply going to be lax when it comes to addressing issues and instances of religious discrimination. Stressing this can have an effective deterrent effect throughout the workplace and help employees feel more secure about legally practicing religion while at work.

4. Define a clear complaint process.

Another great way to address religious discrimination in the workplace is to let employees know there is a clear complaint process. This may also have a deterrent effect if employees know that it is possible to complain about religious discrimination and that the company stand firm on its complaint process policy. Workers may be less likely to engage in discriminatory behavior as a result.

5.  Specifically address religious discrimination in employment policy.

Employment discrimination policy is absolutely necessary, and employment discrimination policy expressed with clarity is a must. When drafting employment discrimination policy, it specifically address instances of religious discrimination, such as the company stance on religious dress and styles in the workplace. This could easily prevent misunderstandings and complications later down the line.

Employers Can Do Their Part to Eradicate Religious Discrimination

Employers can do their part to prevent religious discrimination in the workplace. Much of this involves clearly stating company policy, taking a no tolerance stance against religious discrimination and letting employees know how to complain if necessary.

When an employer oversteps the bounds of the law and violates religious discrimination laws, employees can file suit to protect their rights and gain access to remedies and penalties – a situation which employers should dutifully try to avoid.