Religious discrimination exists when an employee is harassed or subjected to an adverse employment action as a result of his or her religious affiliation, beliefs or practices, or request for accommodation to enable religious observance (i.e. an exception in workplace policy such as mandatory Sunday shifts). Discrimination on the basis of religion is prohibited under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, as is retaliation against an employee for opposing discriminatory treatment.
Any adverse employment action taken against you as a result of religion may constitute religious discrimination. Adverse actions can include: termination, demotion, unequal pay, prejudicial hiring practices, failure to promote a qualified employee, and/or inequality in granting leave, benefits, training, or work assignments.
Some examples of religious discrimination might include:
- If you are denied promotion to a position requiring contact with clients because you wear religious clothing such as a yarmulke, turban, or headscarf.
- If your employer terminates you because you missed work for a religious holiday after giving advanced notice.
- If you are required to work on the Sabbath, even though there are other employees who are willing to trade shifts with you.
- If your religious coworker frequently attempts to convert you and says she wants to "save your soul" after learning that you are non-religious.
- If your supervisor makes regular offensive statements or jokes about members of your religion, such as, "All Muslims are terrorists."
Under Title VII, employers are required to reasonably accommodate an employee's religious practices, unless doing so would create an "undue hardship" for the employer. An undue hardship exists when an accommodation would be too expensive or difficult for the employer to provide it. Many requests for religious accommodation (such as time during the day to pray, flexible scheduling to allow for the observation of religious holidays, or modification of the dress code to permit religious clothing) can be met without placing an excessive burden on the employer; for example, employees can make up time taken to pray, or arrange to swap shifts with a coworker.
However, the nature of the burden will depend upon the particulars of the workplace, the employee's position, and the request. In some cases accommodating an employee's request for religious accommodation would conflict with a seniority system guaranteeing shift preference to senior employees; "undue hardship" is generally a legitimate justification for denying accommodation under such circumstances.
Title VII applies to employers that have fifteen or more employees. Many states have laws which expand religious discrimination protections to cover smaller employers. Please see our chart of Information by State for more detailed information.
If you believe that you were the victim of religious discrimination, it is important to contact a knowledgeable employment attorney as soon as possible, as there may be serious time limit issues to your case. The attorneys at Joseph & Kirschenbaum LLP are committed advocates of employee rights with years of experience handling discrimination claims. Contact us to discuss the details of your case.