In general, the conditions of both federal and state laws make it unlawful for employers to discriminate against their workers or job applicants based on religion. In other terms, employers are forbidden from discriminating against you regarding any aspect of employment because of your religious beliefs.
Religion is deemed to be one of the “protected categories,” among several others that are supplied in the Civil Rights Act of 1964 (“Title VII“), like race, sex, and age. Title VII is the primary source of law overseeing employment discrimination issues.
Under Title VII, behavior that may be deemed an act of employer discrimination against a worker based on their religious views includes:
- Implementing a mandatory dress code that is purposely created to stop 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 pester an employee based on their religious beliefs;
- Disciplining or refusing to accommodate a worker because of their association 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 unequally.
For example, an employer cannot refuse to hire you or fire you simply because you are Protestant.
What Is a Religion?
Workers and applicants are shielded from discrimination based on religious beliefs and practices. Employers may not discriminate based on an employee’s lack of religious belief. A religious employer may not refuse to hire an atheist or any applicant who is not a member of a particular religion.
An employee need not belong to a prominent, organized religion to be shielded from discrimination. The worker’s beliefs must only be religious and sincerely held.
What Counts as a Religious Belief?
While it is evident that employers are not allowed to discriminate based on an employee’s religion, it is not apparent what is considered 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 covers more traditional religions, such as Christianity, Judaism, and Islam, and religious beliefs that might be uncommon or not part of an official church.
Additionally, these guidelines state that just because a religious group practices a belief, 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 example, someone who practices Orthodox Judaism cannot 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. Still, the Catholic religion does not mandate it.
What Are Sincerely Held Beliefs?
An employer must accommodate an employee’s religious beliefs only if they are sincerely held. Usually, nobody argues that an employee’s beliefs are sincerely held. When this subject comes up, it’s commonly because an employee wants an exception to the usual rules. Some employees with visible piercings or tattoos might tell an employer that it goes against their religious beliefs to cover or remove them, as required by the company’s dress code.
Suppose the employer believes the employee is not acting based on a true religious belief but simply trying to avoid obeying the rules. In that case, the employer might argue that the worker’s request is not based on a sincerely held religious belief.
Ultimately, the question of whether an employee has a sincerely held religious belief is resolved on a case-by-case basis after looking at all of the facts and circumstances. Nevertheless, the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC)—the federal agency that enforces Title VII—has listed some elements that might suggest an employee’s professed religious belief is not sincerely held:
- Whether the worker has acted in a way that is markedly inconsistent with the professed belief
- Whether the employee is seeking a benefit that is likely to be desired for secular reasons
- Whether the timing of the request is suspicious (for example, because it follows closely on the heels of the same worker’s request for the same benefit for different reasons), and
- Whether the employer otherwise believes that the worker is seeking the benefit for secular reasons.
What Is Harassment?
Harassment is unpleasant behavior that is so intense or pervasive as to create an intimidating, offensive, or malicious working environment. For instance, if coworkers frequently make fun of, or make hurtful comments about, an employee’s religious beliefs, that could include religious harassment.
What Is Failure to Furnish Reasonable Accommodation?
Although Title VII restricts employers from making decisions based on religion, it occasionally directs employers to acclimate an employee’s religious beliefs or practices. The employer must take the worker’s religion into account when making decisions.
What Are Some Other Things to Know About Religious Beliefs?
There are several other essential things to know about employee religious beliefs:
- An employee’s belief must be sincerely held. If their belief is not sincerely held (e.g., if the employee is faking it or is not important to them), their employer will not have to accommodate their beliefs.
- The belief does not have to be one of the core values of religion to be religious. As previously discussed, the belief need only be held sincerely and as strongly as traditional religious views instruct.
- For religious discrimination, philosophical beliefs may be accepted as religious beliefs.
- Lastly, courts will consider several factors when determining whether a belief is religious in the eyes of the law. For example, a court may consider whether there is collective worship and whether individuals’ beliefs impact how they live daily.
Does My Employer Have to Accommodate My Religious Beliefs?
An employer must take the proper 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 difficulty on a company.
Some ordinary 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 important religious holidays;
- Permitting an employee to wear particular articles of clothing, such as head coverings or religious garments; and
- Changing a worker’s job assignments if their religion does not allow them to perform specific responsibilities.
On the other hand, religious practices that cause serious workplace interference or 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 refuses to accommodate your religious beliefs, or if your employer takes any discriminatory action towards your employment based on your religious beliefs, you may have a claim for religious discrimination. In which case, you should hire a local discrimination lawyer 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. Use LegalMatch to find a lawyer who can help you resolve your religious discrimination case today.