Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 forbids employment discrimination based on gender, race, national origin, or religion in general.
There is one noteworthy exception to the rule: groups are permitted to discriminate based on their faith.
A Catholic school, for example, would prefer to recruit Catholic nuns over atheists, and the same is true for priests. This exemption to discrimination based on religion applies to all workers of a religious institution, not only those at the top.
Is Religious Discrimination in the Workplace Illegal?
Absolutely. Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 forbids religious discrimination in the workplace.
This includes declining to adjust to an employee’s honestly held religious practices or views unless doing so would cause undue hardship (more than a slight burden on the business’s operation).
A person may hold a religious belief honestly even if it is recently chosen, not regularly practiced, or differs from the frequently accepted doctrines of the person’s religion.
What Does “Religion” Imply Under Title VII?
The term “religion” is defined broadly under Title VII. Traditional organized faiths such as Judaism, Islam, Christianity, Buddhism, and Hinduism are included. It also covers religious views that are novel, unusual, not affiliated with a formal sect or church, or are embraced by a tiny group of individuals.
Some traditions, such as avoiding working on Saturday or Sunday, are religious for one individual but not for another.
One individual might not labor on Saturday due to religious reasons, while another might not labor on Saturday due to familial obligations. A tradition is religious under Title VII if the worker’s motivation for the behavior is religious.
Under Title VII, economic, political, or social ideas and personal ideations are not considered “religious” views.
What Are the Most Frequent Religious Accommodations Requested at Work?
Employees and applicants may be granted exemptions from regulations or policies to exercise their religious views or practices. Employers may provide these concessions for religious purposes but refuse to do them for nonreligious ones.
Religious accommodations that are often used include:
- A religious practice requiring an employee to make an exception to the business’s grooming and dress policy, such as a Christian lady who doesn’t wear slacks or skirts, a woman of the Muslim faith who wears a traditional headscarf (hijab), or a Jewish guy who is wearing a yarmulke.
- An atheist needing to be dismissed from the religious prayer offered at the start of staff gatherings, a Christian pharmacist needing to be absolved from filling birth control prescriptions, or a Jehovah’s Witness seeking to change job duties at a plant so that they won’t have to work on producing combat weapons.
- A Native American religious believer needing non-paid leave to go to a ceremony, or a Muslim worker needing a break plan that allows daily prayers during set times.
- An employee requiring an accommodation due to a religious conviction that toiling on the Sabbath is forbidden.
What Is a “Religious Organization”?
Religious organizations are clearly recognizable as churches, mosques, and temples, but the phrase itself is a bit unclear in the eyes of the Title VII provisions for religion.
However, the following characteristics are taken into account to demonstrate that an institution’s principal aim is religious:
- Articles of incorporation stating a religious purpose;
- Day-to-day operations with religion as the main emphasis; and
- Whether it is a for-profit business.
Courts will consider these elements and the religious and secular aspects of an organization on an individual basis.
Most crucially, the religious organization exclusion only applies to religiously motivated discrimination. Religious organizations cannot discriminate based on protected classifications such as race, gender, or national origin.
Title VII’s religious organization exemption specifically exempts religious organizations such as churches from its coverage.
What Is the Difference between the “Right to Discriminate” and a Bona Fide Occupational Qualification Defense?
A “BFOQ” is a commonly-used acronym for the phrase “Bona Fide Occupational Qualification.”
It varies from the freedom to discriminate under religious organization law in that it allows employers to discriminate based on religion, gender, or heritage if the occupation needs one of these protected classifications.
For instance, a women’s clothes designer may exclusively recruit female models since hiring male models would be detrimental to the firm.
The difference between the two is that BFOQ is more tightly defined than a religious organization’s freedom to discriminate.
The former is more concerned with the work itself, while the latter is concerned with the type of employer.
There are situations when they overlap, such as when a Catholic school refuses to recruit a non-Catholic teacher because it is a Bona Fide Occupational Qualification (the ability to teach Catholicism). The institution maintains the right to discriminate.
How Do Employers Evaluate whether a Religious Accommodation puts More than a Minimum Burden on Company Operations (or Constitutes an “Undue Hardship”)?
Instances of greater-than-minimum business constraints (or “undue hardship”) include the following::
- Breaking a seniority system.
- Producing a shortage of required employees.
- Compromising security or health.
- Costing the business more than a slight sum.
If changing the employee’s schedule will cause undue hardship, the business must enable coworkers to voluntarily switch or trade shifts to meet the worker’s religious practice or belief.
If a worker can’t be accommodated in their present role, they may be able to move to a different post.
Overtime compensation for workers who replace shifts isn’t considered an excessive burden. Customers’ preferences or coworker dissatisfaction do not justify rejecting religious accommodations.
Employers should evaluate any requested religious accommodations on an individual basis and train management appropriately.
Best Practices for Employees
Employees who are subjected to inappropriate religious behavior should advise the perpetrator that they desire the behavior to cease.
If the harassment persists, personnel should report it to their supervisor or another appropriate agency official in line with the Department’s anti-harassment policy.
Employees who desire to proselytize in the workplace should refrain from doing so in the presence of anybody who suggests that the messages are unwanted.
Employees who are hesitant to face the person in issue should report the behavior to their supervisor or a member of management in their supervisory chain of command or, if required, the agency’s EEO Manager or the Civil Rights Center.
Employees who need accommodation should notify their superiors of the nature of the discrepancy between their religious demands and their work environment or responsibilities.
Employees should submit enough information for the employer to understand what accommodation is required and why it is required due to a religious practice or belief.
Similarly, before deciding on an accommodation request, supervisors should follow up with workers and seek any relevant information.
What Additional Safeguards Could Be Available? Where Can I Find Out More?
Disparate treatment, employment segregation, discrimination based on religious practice or belief (or lack thereof), and retribution for exercising EEOC rights are likewise prohibited under Title VII.
You can find more information about religious discrimination on the EEOC’s website.
How Can an Attorney Help?
If you are dealing with a discrimination situation, you should immediately call a discrimination lawyer. Religious and BFOQ discrimination may often straddle the legal line. A professional lawyer will analyze your case, advise you on the best course of action, and represent you in court.