In general, the provisions of both federal and state laws make it illegal for employers to discriminate against their employees or job applicants on the basis of religion. In other words, this means that your employer is prohibited from discriminating against you in regard to any aspect of employment because of your religious beliefs.

The reason for this is because religion is considered to be one of the “protected categories”, among several others that are provided in the Civil Rights Act of 1964 (“Title VII”), like race, sex, and age. Title VII is the main source of law governing employment discrimination matters.

Under Title VII, conduct that may be considered an act of employer discrimination against a worker based on their religious beliefs include:

  • Enforcing a mandatory dress code that is intentionally designed to prevent employees from adhering to their religious practices;
  • Withholding an employee’s wages who is rightfully entitled to payment because of their religion;
  • Maintaining a hostile work environment by continuing to harass an employee based on their religious beliefs;
  • Penalizing or refusing to accommodate a worker because of their connection with a particular religious organization; and
  • Treating an employee differently from others because of their religion, regardless of whether the treatment is better or worse, so long as it is done in an unequal manner.

As an example, an employer cannot refuse to hire you or terminate you simply because you are Protestant.

What Counts as a Religious Belief?

While it is clear that employers are not allowed to discriminate on the basis of an employee’s religion, it is not so clear as to what is considered to be a religious belief.

According to the guidelines provided by the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (“EEOC”), Title VII defines the term “religion” very broadly. Thus, it not only covers more traditional religions, such as Christianity, Judaism, and Islam, but also religious beliefs that might be uncommon or not part of an official church.

Additionally, these guidelines state that just because a belief is practiced by a religious group, this does not make it a religious belief on its own. Instead, the law will recognize a belief as religious if it is held with the strength of traditional religious views.

For instance, someone who practices Orthodox Judaism is not allowed to work on Saturdays. This is part of their religious belief system. On the other hand, a Catholic person may choose not to work on Saturdays due to family obligations, but it is not mandated by the Catholic religion.

What are Some Other Things to Know about Religious Beliefs?

There are several other important things to know about religious beliefs. This includes that:

  • An employee’s belief must be sincerely held. If their belief is not sincerely held (e.g., if the employee is faking it or it is not actually important to them), then their employer will not have to accommodate their beliefs.
  • The belief does not have to be one of the core values of a religion in order to be religious. As previously discussed, the belief need only be held sincerely and as strongly as traditional religious views instruct.
  • For the purposes of religious discrimination, philosophical beliefs may be accepted as religious beliefs.
  • Lastly, courts will consider a number of factors when determining whether a belief is religious in the eyes of the law. For example, a court may consider whether there is a collective worship and if an individual’s beliefs impact how they live on a daily basis.

Does My Employer Have to Accommodate My Religious Beliefs?

An employer must take the appropriate steps to accommodate an employee’s sincerely held religious beliefs. These accommodations need only be reasonable, which means that an employer will not have to make any adjustments that will impose an undue hardship on a business.

Some common examples of religious practices that an employer will most likely have to accommodate include:

  • Allowing an employee to take time off from work to attend religious services or for significant religious holidays;
  • Permitting an employee to wear certain articles of clothing, such as head coverings or religious garments; and
  • Changing a worker’s job tasks if their religion does not permit them to perform certain responsibilities.

On the other hand, religious practices that cause serious interference in the workplace or that jeopardize a company’s security, will not have to be accommodated.

Do I Need to Hire a Lawyer If My Employer Does Not Accommodate My Religious Beliefs?

If your employer is refusing to accommodate your religious beliefs, or alternatively, if your employer takes any discriminatory action towards your employment based on your religious beliefs, then you may have a claim for religious discrimination. In which case, you should hire a local employment attorney for further assistance.

An experienced employment attorney will be able to determine whether your employer has acted in a discriminating manner, and if so, can represent you during settlement negotiations or in court if necessary.