Religious discrimination occurs when an employer treats an employee differently because of the employee’s religious preferences. It is a form of employment discrimination, which happens when an employee is treated less favorably than similar employees due to their belonging to a protected class. Religion is a protected class. This means that if an employee is being treated differently or less favorably than other similar employees, because of the religion they belong to, they are considered to be discriminated against in the workplace.

Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 specifically addresses religious discrimination. The Act prohibits employers from basing the following actions on an employee’s protected class, such as their religion:

  • Hiring and firing;
  • Compensating, classifying, or assigning;
  • Transferring, promoting, demoting, or laying off;
  • Job advertisements and recruitment of new employees;
  • Testing;
  • Banning or allowing the use of company spaces or equipment;
  • Access to training or apprenticeship;
  • Creating dress codes that specifically inhibit religious employees;
  • Access to retirement, disability, and fringe benefits;
  • Scheduling work or work related activities so they intentionally conflict with religious holidays; and
  • Harassment, or failing to protect an employee who is being harassed by a coworker.

To avoid being accused of religious discrimination, employers cannot engage in the following specific acts:

  • Treat specific employees more favorably because of their religion, or less favorably because of their religion. An example of this would be treating a Christian employee more favorably, or a Muslim employee less favorably;
  • Force employees to participate in practices against their religious beliefs; an exception to this is the Bona Fide Occupational Qualifications defense (“BFOQ” defense); or
  • Allow employees to be harassed because of their beliefs. This includes being harassed by other employees as well as management.

What Is Religious Accommodation? What Are Some Examples of Religious Accommodation?

According to federal law, employers must accommodate reasonable religious practices. Employers must be flexible with their employees in regards to their religious practices and holidays. An example of this would be allowing an employee to change their work schedule in order to appropriately observe a holiday specific to their religion.

Another specific example would be to make an allowance if an employee requests an accommodation regarding the workplace dress code, so long as the request is not outrageous or unreasonable.

Some other examples of religious accommodation include but may not be limited to:

  • Flexible work breaks for activities such as prayer;
  • Job reassignment, such as a department transfer or change in job tasks, so long as it is equitable and not discriminatory;
  • Allowing for the employee to voluntarily swap shifts;
  • Modifying workplace practices to be more accommodating and diverse;
  • Designating a private location to be used for religious observances;
  • Allowing employees to observe religious grooming or dress practices, such as wearing a head covering or facial hair; and/or
  • Allowing employees to abstain from wearing specific clothing that goes against their religious practice, such as pants when their religion specifies they may only wear dresses or skirts.

In terms of religious holidays, the employer must also allow the employee to make up for any missed work time as a result of taking time off for the religious holiday. In regards to prayer in the workplace, any type of prayer or other religious practice that would unreasonably interfere with work may be denied by the employer.

When making a request for a religious accommodation, the employee must express their need for a change in schedule based on their religious practice, or if their beliefs conflict with their work duties. Accommodations are not immediately granted and must usually be requested.

When Would a Religious Accommodation Be Denied?

For an employer to legally refuse an employee’s request, the employer must show that there would be no way for them to reasonably provide the accommodation without also causing “undue hardship” to the company. Religious accommodations may cause undue hardship for an employer if the accommodation:

  • Costs too much money;
  • Risks workplace safety standards;
  • Infringes on the rights of other employees;
  • Requires other employees to take on more tasks;
  • Creates workplace inefficiency; and/or
  • Violates the terms of the company’s collective bargaining agreement.

In order to prove an undue hardship, the employer will need to show that the request would impose more than a minimal burden on the operation of the business. What constitutes extreme or undue hardship will likely vary by jurisdiction. However, hardship will likely be measured by weighing the cost of the accommodation against the size, nature, structure, and resources of the employer.

Do I Need an Attorney for Religious Accommodation?

If you believe that your employer has discriminated against you because of your religious beliefs and/or practices, you should immediately consult with a skilled and knowledgeable employment law attorney.

An experienced employment law attorney can help you understand your rights and your state’s laws regarding the matter. An attorney will also determine the best course of action to take, as well as represent you in court if you decide to file a lawsuit against your employer for their discriminatory actions.