Religious discrimination can take many forms. If you have been denied work or a promotion, been harassed or denied an accommodation at work because of your religious beliefs or practices, or because of your lack of certain religious beliefs, you may have a claim. Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 (Title VII) and the Religious Freedom Restoration Act (RFRA) prohibit many employers from engaging in religious discrimination in the workplace. To find out more about what religious discrimination is and how you may be protected, read below:
Religious discrimination, in the context of employment, is treating employees differently because of their religion, religious beliefs or practices, and/or their request for accommodation —a change in a workplace rule or policy— for their religious beliefs and practices. It also includes treating employees differently because of their lack of religious belief or practice. The law protects not only people who belong to traditional organized religions such as Christianity, Islam, Judaism, or other faiths; but all people who have sincerely held religious, ethical, or moral beliefs. If you have been rejected for employment, fired, harassed, or otherwise harmed in your employment because of your religion, religious beliefs and practices, and/or your request for accommodation of your religious beliefs and practices, you may have suffered unlawful religious discrimination.
Some workers experiencing religious discrimination may also experience other forms of illegal discrimination, such as national origin discrimination, immigration/citizenship status discrimination, and/or race discrimination. There are typically three main forms of religious discrimination in the workplace: (1) employment decisions based on religious preference (2) harassment based on religious preferences and, (3) failing to reasonably accommodate religious practices. Some examples of potentially unlawful religious discrimination are:
- Hiring / firing / promotion: This type of discrimination includes making employment decisions based upon someone’s faith, or lack thereof. This could be refusing to hire an employee because he or she is a Seventh-Day Adventist or Orthodox Jew and observes a Saturday Sabbath; firing an employee after he or she misses work to observe a religious holiday; promoting an employee only if she is willing to attend church regularly; transferring an employee to a position with less public contact because he is a Rastafarian who wears dreadlocks; not giving an employee a raise until he stops discussing religious beliefs with other employees during free time such as breaks or lunch.
- Harassment: Harassing individuals due to their religion can include making fun of employees or telling them they are violating the company’s dress code because they wear religious clothing such as yarmulkes, turbans, or hijabs (head scarves); repeatedly mocking a person because of his or her strong, Christian beliefs; ridiculing a Muslim employee for refusing pork at a company picnic; making efforts repeatedly to “save the soul” of a fellow employee who is an atheist.
- Failure to accommodate: Denial of religious accommodation is the most common form of workplace religious discrimination. This type of discrimination can include requiring an employee to work on his Sunday Sabbath, even though other employees are willing to trade shifts with him; forcing an employee to remove her hijab (scarf) to comply with the company’s dress code even though other employees wear baseball caps on the job; not allowing employees to display religious icons or other expressions of religious belief in their work spaces, although employees are allowed to display other types of personal items.
According to a facts sheet provided by the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, the success rate of employment related religious discrimination cases has increased and the payout along with it. There have been many note-worthy cases in which the court found in favor of the employee. If any of these things have happened to you on the job, you may have suffered illegal religious discrimination.
Title VII defines “religion” to include all aspects of religious observance and practice as well as belief. The religion does not have to be a traditional, organized religion such as Buddhism, Christianity, Hinduism, Islam, and Judaism. Religious beliefs can include unique views held by a few or even one individual; however, mere personal preferences are not religious beliefs and beliefs are not protected merely because they are strongly held.
The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) has determined religion typically concerns “ultimate ideas” about “life, purpose, and death.” Social, political, or economic philosophies, as well as mere personal preferences, are not “religious” beliefs protected by Title VII.
Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 (“Title VII”) is a federal law that protects individuals from discrimination based on religion. Title VII makes it illegal for an employer to discriminate against individuals because of their religion in hiring, firing, and other terms and conditions of employment, such as promotions, raises, and other job opportunities.
Title VII also requires employers to reasonably accommodate the religious practices of an employee or prospective employee, unless to do so would be an “undue hardship” on the employer. Flexible scheduling, voluntary substitutions or swaps, job reassignments, and transfers within the company and the same salary range are examples of ways of accommodating an employee’s religious beliefs.
Put simply, this means that employers cannot treat employees more or less favorably due to their religion, and employees cannot be required to participate in, or refrain from participating in, a religious activity as a condition of employment. Beyond this, employers must also take steps to prevent religious discrimination from other employees. Finally, employers may not retaliate against employees for asserting their rights under Title VII to file a discrimination claim, discuss salary with other employees, or serve as a witness in someone else’s discrimination case.
In addition to the federal law, most states also have laws that make it illegal to discriminate on the basis of religion. See the state law question on this page for more information.
Congress passed the Religious Freedom Restoration Act (RFRA) in 1993. Under the RFRA, the Federal government cannot pass a law that restricts religious freedom unless the law helps to advance a governmental interest and the law is the least restrictive way to advance the governmental interest.
Many states have adopted their own version of the RFRA either by statute or through court decisions. See the state law question on this page for more information.
The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) is the agency of the federal government responsible for investigating charges of job discrimination related to religious discrimination or lack of accommodation in workplaces of 15 or more employees.
Title VII covers all private employers, state and local governments, and educational institutions that employ 15 or more individuals. Title VII also covers private and public employment agencies, labor organizations, and joint labor management committees controlling apprenticeship and training.
Under state laws that make it illegal to discriminate on the basis of religion, however, the minimum number of employees needed to bring a claim varies by state.
Anti-discrimination protections apply to job applicants as well as current workers. If you are a current employee and are fired, not promoted, or paid at a lower rate because of your religious beliefs of practices, you are protected under the law. If you are not hired because of your religious beliefs, you are also protected.
It is important to note that the laws intention is to provide protection for a broad spectrum of religious practices and beliefs, not only those aligning with an organized religion. This means that just because you do not belong to an official organized religion does not necessarily mean that you do not have valid beliefs. So long as the religious beliefs are real, practiced, and followed, it does not matter if they are logical or understandable to others.
In addition to employers requirement to prevent and resolve religious conflicts, employees have an obligation to communicate conflict to their employer. To do this, an employee should tell his or her employer about any religious commitments or practices at the time the job is accepted or immediately upon becoming aware of the need for the accommodation. As an employee, it is best that you share religious commitments in writing; simply communicating them verbally is not enough. Explain the reason you need accommodation and what kinds of accommodation you suggest. Keep copies of everything you send and receive from your employer, as well as copies of information supplied from your church or religious leaders.
If you continue to be denied an accommodation after a written, reasonable request, you may want to file a grievance. If you are a union member, you may be able to file a formal grievance through the union. Try to get a shop steward or other union official to help you work through the grievance process. Some employers have policies for handling a dispute regarding religious accommodations. You may be able to resolve the dispute at your job internally. Find out what the employers’ policies are by looking in your employee manual or other sources of personnel policies. Your employer’s human resources department may be able to help.
However, even if you file a grievance with your employer, the deadlines to file in court or with an administrative agency still apply, so be sure not to miss them.
Yes. In a recent case before the Supreme Court, a woman was declined a sales associate job because her hijab violated Abercrombie’s “look policy”, even though the job applicant was not informed of this policy. In this case, Equal Employment Opportunity Commission v. Abercrombie & Fitch Stores, the Court held that if management has even a suspicion about an applicant or an employee’s religious views and/or need for an accommodation, it may violate Federal civil rights laws to not hire or accommodate, that applicant or employee, while enforcing a completely neutral job rule. So even if a job applicant or employee does not inform management about a religious practice, the employer still must make religious accommodations for that applicant or employee if they believe the worker follows a certain religious belief or practice, even if doing so contradicts neutral company policies. Remember, however, that your employer is only obligated to provide an accommodation so long as it will not cause an undue hardship or burden the employer.
This changes the idea that employees must first request the accommodation and puts forth the new standard that so long as the employer had even a remote suspicion that an accommodation would be needed, it must provide that accommodation. If a job applicant or an employee does not get hired or faces an adverse employment action, they only need to show that their need for an accommodation was a motivating factor in the employer’s decision.
However, in EEOC v. Baystate Med. Ctr., Inc., a complaint was filed on June 2, 2016 alleging that a hospital in Massachusetts discriminated against an employee who failed to obtain a flu shot due to religious reasons and raised concern to the alternative of wearing a face mask at work. The medical center suspended her without pay when she was seen at work without her without a mask. The EEOC has alleged that the mask policy is unreasonable because others had a hard time understanding her when she spoke and argued that allowing her to remove the mask to speak would not cause an under hardship or burden on the hospital because she had not contact with patient.
According to the complaint, Baystate’s policies apply to all employees including those who don’t come into contact with patients. Employees who failed to comply with the policy for religious or other reasons were required to wear a face mask or they were placed on unpaid leave, without job protection, until they complied with the policy or the flu season ended, the EEOC asserts. This case notes that employers may question the sincerity of an employee’s alleged religious belief and will likely resolve the issue on what is considered a “reasonable accommodation” for issues involving religious beliefs and vaccinations.
You should start by letting your employer know that there is a conflict between your religious observances and your work schedule. When your employer’s workplace policies interfere with your religious practices, you can ask for what is called a “reasonable accommodation”: a change in a workplace rule or policy which would allow you to engage in a religious practice without conflicting with your work obligations.
Your employer is required to provide you with such an accommodation unless it would impose an undue hardship or unnecessary burden on the employer’s business. This would be an accommodation that is too costly or difficult to provide. The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) who oversees these types of claims, has interpreted an undue hardship to mean anything more than regular administrative costs, anything that reduces workplace effectiveness or harms workplace safety. It can be anything disrupting other employees’ job rights, causing those employees’ to carry the accommodated employee’s share of burdensome work, or conflicting with another law or regulation. Thus, employers are obligated to try in good faith to resolve the religious conflict or identify an actual monetary or administrative expensee. It is important for you to work closely with your employer to find an appropriate accommodation.
If the accommodation would impose a burden on the employer that cannot be resolved, the employer is not required to allow the accommodation. Many accommodations, however, do not require any monetary or administrative burdens. Whether your employer can accommodate your religious practices will depend upon the nature of the work and the workplace. Usually, your employer can allow you to use lunch or other break times for religious prayer. If you require additional time for prayer, your employer can require you to make up the time.
Employers must give time off for the Sabbath or holy days except in an emergency, unless the employee works in key health and safety occupations or the employee’s presence is critical to the company on any given day. This time off does not have to be paid, however. If employees don’t come to work, employers may give them leave without pay, may require the amount of time to be made up, or may allow the employee to charge the time against any other leave with pay, except sick pay.
If your employer can demonstrate undue hardship, it does not have to accommodate your religious practices. One way employers can show undue hardship is if changing the seniority system to accommodate one employee’s religious practices denies another employee the job or shift preference guaranteed by the seniority system.
If this is the case in your workplace, you may wish to speak with your coworkers to see if someone will trade shifts with you voluntarily, ask your employer if you can make up the work at other times, or transfer into another position that does not require that you work on the day of your religious observances.
Retaliation occurs if an adverse employment action is taken against an employee because the employee engaged in a protected activity, such as asking for a religious accommodation, or making a complaint about religious discrimination. Title VII prohibits retaliation against employees engaging in protected activities, and this type of claim is the fastest growing complaint. See Burlington Northern & Santa Fe (BNSF) Railway Co. v. White, a 2016 United States Supreme Court case, broadened what can be considered in a retaliation case by holding that the adverse employment action does not have to happen in the workplace or be workplace related
It Is important to note that the original discrimination claim does not have to be successful for and employer to still be found guilty of retaliation in response to the filing of the original claim.
Yes. Employers cannot schedule examinations or other selection activities in conflict with a current or prospective employee’s religious needs, unless the employer can prove that not doing so would cause an undue hardship. You may either choose to let your potential employer know that this poses a conflict with your day of worship, or you may just wish to tell the employer that you have a conflict and are not available on that day.
Employees also bear responsibility to resolve conflicts between job duties and religious needs, so you should let your employer know about any potential conflict either when you accept a job. If you have become more observant of your religion during your employment, and there is now a conflict that did not previously exist, you should let your employer know immediately.
The law protects both current employees and job applicants against religious discrimination. Since asking job applicants about their availability on specific days tends to screen out employees with certain religious practices who need accommodation, employers should not ask this question during the hiring process.
The best way for the employer to gather this information is for the employer to state the normal work hours for the job and, after making it clear that you are not required to indicate the need for any religious-related absences during the scheduled work hours, to ask whether you are otherwise available to work those hours. Then, after a position is offered, but before you are hired, your employer can inquire into the need for a religious accommodation and determine whether an accommodation is possible.
In most cases whether or not a practice or belief is ‘religious’ is not at issue. If it is an issue, your employer has some room to ask you about your beliefs, to determine that they are sincere and religious beliefs.
Religious practices are not just those required by church or other religious group, but include moral or ethical beliefs as to what is right and wrong that are sincerely held with the strength of traditional religious views. The fact that no religious group holds such beliefs or that religious groups to which others in the workplace belong may not accept such beliefs will not determine whether the beliefs are ‘religious’ in nature. Although this is very subjective, your employer has the right to try to figure out if the employee’s beliefs are ‘religious’ by gathering information about your beliefs and their role in your life.
The law also requires that your beliefs be “sincerely held.” An employer is likely to be skeptical if, for example, after the employer announces that Sunday work will no longer be paid at double time, you suddenly develop a religious objection to working Sundays after doing so for years. The employer is entitled to ask some questions to determine the sincerity of your religious beliefs or practices, such as: Which religion is the source of this belief? For how long have you believed that you cannot work on Sundays (or your Sabbath day)? Have the strength or nature of your religious beliefs changed recently? While the employer should not be unreasonable in trying to figure out whether your beliefs are “sincerely held,” you should be prepared to respond to such questions, especially if your religious beliefs have recently changed or evolved to present a new conflict with work policies and practices.
Under certain circumstances, some religious institutions enjoy exemptions from federal laws covering religious discrimination. If the organization is a religious corporation, association, educational institution or society, then it is allowed under Title VII to hire only individuals of a particular religion to “perform work connected with the carrying on by such corporation, association, educational institution or society of its activities.” For example, a Catholic school or university can require that all of the teachers it hires be Catholic.
While such exemptions may provide a defense to a discrimination claim based upon religion, religious institutions are not permitted to discriminate on grounds other than religion merely because of the institution’s religious character. Therefore, a Baptist institution could hire only Baptists, but could not refuse to hire African-Americans or applicants with disabilities.
Some courts have ruled recently that such religious organizations can legally discriminate against employees who do not subscribe or conform to their beliefs. In two cases involving gay employees who were terminated after their employers learned about their sexual orientation, courts upheld the right of both religious employers to terminate those employees because homosexuality was incompatible with the organizations’ religious values. However, both cases occurred in states without a state law making it illegal to discriminate on the basis of sexual orientation. The outcome might have been different in states with these laws. Religious employers have also been allowed to fire pregnant employees for engaging in premarital sex where it was against the beliefs of the religion, but were required to show that all employees, including men or women who were known to engage in premarital sex (even without a resulting pregnancy) were treated similarly.
If an article of clothing that you wear, such as a turban, hijab, or yarmulke, is required by your religion, you should ask your employer for a religious accommodation to wear it at work. Your employer has a legal obligation to grant your request if it does not impose a burden, or an “undue hardship,” under Title VII.
While a dress code the is enforce on all employees is generally a valid reason for not allowing religious clothing, your employer may also try to justify denying you the ability to wear your religious clothing at work based on concerns about offending or losing customers; this is not valid. Customer preference is never a justification for a discriminatory practice. Refusing to hire someone because customers or co-workers may be uncomfortable with that person’s religion or national origin is just as illegal as refusing to hire that person because of religion or national origin in the first place. This prohibition applies to other employment decisions as well, including promotion, transfers, work assignments and wages.
If your employer wants to lawfully prevent you from wearing this clothing, the employer would need to show that allowing you to wear this clothing would pose an undue hardship on the business. Real or perceived customer preference would rarely, if ever, meet the undue hardship standard.
Health and safety concerns, however, may meet the undue hardship standard. For example, a factory required that assembly line workers wear pants to protect them from getting loose clothing caught in the machinery and from suffering burns. The company terminated an employee after she refused to wear pants and claimed that her religion requires women to wear dresses. The court held that reasonable accommodation cannot undermine the safety of plant operations or create undue hardship on the company by increasing job hazards, and therefore the firing was determined to be lawful.
If you have been asked to remove or not wear clothing that is part of your religious identity, you may want to ask your employer for an accommodation to wear this clothing. If the employer denies that request, then you should quickly consult with an attorney or federal or state anti-discrimination agency before wearing the clothing and risking discipline or termination, as it can be difficult to undo the harm once you have been terminated or otherwise disciplined. For more information on this topic, please view our page on Dress Codes and Grooming Codes.
It depends. A potential accommodation that is unlikely to cause the employer undue hardship is to allow you to observe your religious practices, such as prayer or Bible study, during time when it does not interfere with your work, like breaks or a lunch hour. If going to another building for prayer takes longer than the time set aside for breaks, you can still can be accommodated if the nature of your work allows for flexible scheduling. Your employer can require you to make up any work time missed for religious observance. Using additional space for your religious observance, like using a conference room for prayers, would not impose an undue hardship in most circumstances. However, when the room is needed for business purposes, your employer can deny its use for personal religious purposes.
Your employer can also restrict the extent to which you seek to express your religious views to coworkers and/or involve them in your religious activities. While you are entitled to express your religious beliefs, it should be in a non-coercive manner that respects the rights of other employees to hold different religious beliefs or no religious beliefs at all. Otherwise, other employees may claim that they are being subjected to a hostile, intimidating or offensive work environment, which could cause your employer to face a lawsuit because of its failure to prevent this situation from continuing.
It depends. Religious jokes or slurs, or offensive or obscene language intended to offend your religious beliefs, may be considered harassment, which courts have determined is a form of illegal discrimination. However, federal law does not prohibit simple teasing, offhand comments, or isolated incidents that are not extremely serious. The conduct must be sufficiently frequent or severe to create a hostile work environment or result in a “tangible employment action,” such as hiring, firing, promotion, or demotion.
Just like sexual harassment, religious harassment may occur in the form of “quid pro quo” harassment or a “hostile work environment”.
Quid pro quo: This type of harassment occurs when a harasser seeks to exchange a “tangible employment benefit,” such as a promotion, for an individual’s compliance with the harasser’s religious demands, and when the demand is not complied with the harasser engages in an adverse employment action such as demotion or job loss.
Hostile Work Environment: This type of harassment occurs when there is offensive conduct directed at an employee due to that employee’s religion, where the conduct is so severe or pervasive that it affects the terms or conditions of the employment and the employer fails to take reasonable steps to stop the conduct. Courts will look at the totality of the circumstances to determine whether or not a hostile work environment occurred.
Under the hostile work environment claim, an employer is liable if it knew or should have known religious harassment existed and failed to implement prompt action to stop the harassment. If a supervisor was the one creating the hostile work environment, the employer is liable. However, the employer may use a defense that the harassment resulted in firing, demotion, or any other tangible adverse employment action, and that the employer made an effort to quickly correct environment but the employee unreasonably failed to take advantage of any opportunities provided by the employer to correct the harm.
Yes, to a point. You have the legal right to discuss your own religious beliefs with a fellow employee if you wish to do so, but you cannot do so to the point that the employee feels you are being hostile, intimidating, or offensive. Otherwise, your coworker may claim that he or she has been subjected to a hostile work environment on the basis of religion, and may have the right to sue the employer if the employer does not make you stop.
So if your coworker objects to your discussion of religious subjects or you get any hint from your coworker or others that your religious advances are unwelcome, it is time to stop. Otherwise, you may face discipline or termination from your employer, and/or become involved in a lawsuit or administrative proceeding.
Your coworker has the legal right to discuss religious beliefs with you or other employees if he or she wishes to do so. However, your coworker cannot persist to the point of being hostile, intimidating, or offensive. Otherwise, you can claim that you have been subjected to a hostile work environment on the basis of religion, and may have a valid legal claim against your employer if the employer does not make your coworker stop.
When confronted by a coworker who wants to discuss religious matters, the first step is to let that person know that the discussion is making you uncomfortable and you do not want to continue discussing religion. That may resolve the problem, as your coworker might not have understood your objections or discomfort with the subject. If the problem continues, however, you may need to notify your supervisor or your company’s human resources department. Your company should have a policy for dealing with harassment complaints, including complaints of religious harassment, and once your employer is aware of the problem, it must take steps to address it.
Courts have determined that the freedom not to believe is also a religious belief protected by Title VII and entitled to accommodation. If you work for a non-religious employer, your employer it is unlikely that your employer will have a legitimate business reason for policies or practices that discriminate against someone for their lack of religious beliefs. The personal religious beliefs of one supervisor or even the company’s owner would rarely, if ever, be a legitimate basis for discrimination in this situation.
However, some courts have held that religious organizations or organizations working with youth may discriminate against employees who do not subscribe to the organization’s principles, as long as those principles have been universally applied to all employees. For example, religious organizations have been allowed to terminate gay employees if homosexuality was incompatible with the religious organization’s beliefs. Similarly, since religious organizations have specific principles condemning premarital sex, they have been allowed to terminate unmarried pregnant employees on the basis that they were terminated for engaging in premarital sex. This example is slightly different because terminations for this reason have sometimes resulted in sex or pregnancy discrimination claims. This is because women are the only ones with the ability to show physical indications of primatial sex so there is no way to be sure the policy is enforced on men and women equally.
A private employer does not discriminate based on religion if they based their business objectives or work objectives on religious principles. Individual employers are free to practice their religion. However, it can become unlawful if the employer gives the perception that one must agree with the employer’s religious views in order to become employed or advance in their job.
An employee whose religious practices prohibit payment of union dues to a labor organization cannot be required to pay the dues, but may pay an equal sum to a charitable organization. If you do not object to all of the union’s work, but merely the portion spent advocating in favor of a cause you do not support, another possible accommodation is discounting your union dues by a fraction of the amount of money spent on the union activity you do not agree with.
If this is part of your religious beliefs, you should let your employer and your union know this so that dues will not be withheld from your paycheck, and also make the appropriate arrangements for either paying your dues to a charitable organization or making a discounted dues payment.
Some companies have recently added an element of spirituality to their training programs that some employees object to because these programs may conflict with their own religious beliefs. These “new age” training programs, designed to improve employee motivation, cooperation, or productivity through meditation, yoga, biofeedback, or other practices, may be in violation of federal anti-discrimination laws.
Employers must accommodate any employee who gives notice that these training programs are inconsistent with the employee’s religious beliefs, whether or not the employer believes there is a religious basis for the employee’s objection. If you are required to participate in such a program, and believe there is a conflict, you should let your employer know immediately so that an accommodation can be devised. You may be able to skip all or part of the program that focuses on spirituality, or to participate in an alternative non-spiritual program that will accomplish the same goals.
Probably not. Diversity programs, where a workplace initiates programs that promote acceptance of certain people, like gay or lesbian individuals, or handicapped individuals, in the workplace are becoming more common. Some employees object to attending because they believe this type of a program promoting different lifestyles is offensive to their religion, where they have a sincerely held religious belief against a particular lifestyle, such as unwed mothers or varying sexual orientations. While the law is still evolving in this area, currently an employer must accommodate the employee’s religious beliefs, so long as it does not cause an undue hardship. If you are required to attend a diversity program that conflicts with your religious beliefs, you should let your employer know immediately, and you may be able to skip all or part of the program.
Your supervisor has the legal right to discuss your religious beliefs with you or other employees if he or she wishes to do so. This may include an invitation to participate in church services. However, your supervisor cannot persist to the point of being hostile, intimidating, or offensive. Also, your supervisor cannot make any aspect of your employment, such as pay raises, promotions, or job assignments conditional on you attending his or her church.
If the employer does not make your supervisor stop in this situation, you could claim that you have been subjected to a hostile work environment on the basis of religion, and may have the right to initiate legal action against your employer. If a term or condition of your employment, such as a pay raise or promotion is affected by religion, your employer may be liable for the supervisor’s action.
When confronted by a supervisor who wants to discuss religious matters or for you to participate in church services, the first step is to let that person know that the discussion is making you uncomfortable and that you do not want to talk further about religion nor attend church services. That may resolve the problem, as your supervisor might not have previously realized your objections or discomfort with the subject. If, however, the problem persists or your employment starts to be affected, you may need to notify another supervisor or your company’s human resources department. You could also consult with a lawyer about filing a religious discrimination claim.
Your company should have a policy for dealing with harassment and discrimination complaints, including complaints of religious harassment and discrimination. Once your employer is aware of the problem, it must take steps to address it.
Yes, Title VII prohibits workplace or job segregation based on religion (including religious garb and grooming practices), such as assigning an employee to a non-customer contact position because of actual or feared customer preference.This includes segregating based on religious attire and grooming practices.
Yes,Title VII’s prohibition against religious discrimination may overlap with Title VII’s prohibitions against discrimination based on national origin, race, and color. Where a given religion is strongly associated – or perceived to be associated – with a certain national origin, the same facts may state a claim of both religious and national origin discrimination. All four bases might be implicated where, for example, co-workers target a dark-skinned Muslim employee from Saudi Arabia for harassment because of his religion, national origin, race, and/or color.
Clergy members are generally unable to bring claims under federal employment discrimination laws regarding religious discrimination. However, this ministerial exception applies only to employees who perform essentially religious functions.
Sometimes. In Burwell v. Hobby Lobby Stores, Inc., the Supreme Court held in a 5-4 decision, that closely held corporations whose owners are religious cannot be required to pay for contraceptive coverage. In deciding this case, the Court made a statutory, not constitutional, interpretation of the Religious Freedom Restoration Act (RFRA), explained above.
The Court held that a closely held corporation is a person who can exercise religious beliefs under the RFRA; that the birth control mandate under the Affordable Care Act puts a substantial burden on the company’s religious beliefs; and there are other less restrictive options to achieve the Government’s objectives without interfering with the company’s religious liberties.
Recently, the United States Supreme Court decision in Little Sisters of the Poor v. Pennsylvania, allows employers to refuse to provide health insurance that covers the cost of contraception if they have a religious or moral conflict. After this decision, employers who do not provide contraception benefits because they are exempt from doing so due to religious or moral conflicts, will not be committing discrimination.
While many questions relating to this case are still arising, this case essentially stands for the notion that a company can have sincere religious beliefs and based on those religious beliefs can eliminate the right for female employees to access contraceptive coverage through employer-covered health plans. Although the Hobby Lobby case was about insurance coverage for contraception, the decision opened the door for many state RFRAs to be used as tools for religious exemptions.
An employer can be exempt from Title VII’s religion provisions if they are a religious organization or a religious educational institution. Religious organizations are allowed to give employment preference to members of their own religion, but this exception applies only to institutions whose “purpose and character are primarily religious.”
Victims of religious discrimination can recover remedies that include:
- back pay
- front pay
- compensatory damages (emotional pain and suffering)
- punitive damages (damages to punish the employer)
- other actions that will make an individual “whole” (in the condition she or he would have been in if not the discrimination had never occurred).
Remedies also may include payment of:
- attorneys’ fees
- expert witness fees
- court costs
An employer may be required to post notices to all employees addressing the violations of a specific charge and advising them of their right to be free of discrimination, harassment, and retaliation. If necessary, such notices must be accessible to persons with visual or other disabilities that affect reading.
The employer also may be required to take corrective or preventive actions with regard to the person(s) responsible for the discrimination, take steps to minimize the chance it will happen again, as well as stop the specific discriminatory practices in the case. Your state law may allow for greater or different remedies than federal law.
Visit workplacefairness.org for more information on filing a complaint for religious discrimination.
According to the EEOC, Title VII requires employers to accommodate once they are on notice that religious accommodation is needed. They must provide reasonable accommodations for employees who have a sincere religious belief, practice, or observance that conflicts with work requirements.
If an employer becomes aware of conflicts between work requirements and an employee’s religion, they should discuss with the employee how they may best accommodate them.
Religious accommodations must be reasonable and for a sincerely held belief, practice, or observance.
An employer can deny accommodations that would pose undue hardship. After the Supreme Court’s decision in Groff v. DeJoy in 2023, there is only undue hardship if an employer can establish that the accommodation would cause them “to bear more than a de minimis cost.” In Groff v. DeJoy, the Court held that inconvenience to coworkers was insufficient to deny accommodation. Despite having to cover for him, a U.S. Postal Service worker could not be denied when he requested to not work on Sundays due to his Christian beliefs.
Employers can also reject accommodations if they are not for a sincere belief that genuinely conflicts with work requirements. A belief may be insincere, for example, if the employee acts inconsistently with it.
Accommodations are not “one size fits all.” Employers should discuss with individual employees what accommodations would benefit them. This also gives employers an opportunity to explain why a requested accommodation may be unreasonable and to come to an agreement on it. Religious accommodations are intended to allow employees to practice their beliefs without their work suppressing them, while also not disrupting the workplace.
Examples of religious accommodations include but are not limited to:
- Breaks to allow for prayer
- Dress code exceptions, such as allowing an employee to wear a hijab despite a “no hats” policy
- Rescheduling shifts so an employee does not work on a religious holiday
- Rescheduling a job interview to not be on a religious holiday
Federal laws for workplace religious discrimination set the floor. In other words, a state, municipality, or employer may adopt their own regulations to extend protections but not to constrict them.
Many states have adopted their own versions of the federal Religious Freedom Restoration Act (RFRA) via statute or court decisions. These laws are not specific to the workplace; Rather, they broadly prohibit state governments from substantially burdening the free exercise of religion without compelling justification.