Religious Discrimination

Religious discrimination occurs when a person is treated unfavorably due to his or her religious beliefs. Title VII of the Civil Rights Act protects individuals who belong to organized religions as well as individuals with other religious, moral, or ethical beliefs, as long as these beliefs are sincerely held. Religious discrimination can also occur if an employee is married to or has other familial connections to a person associated with a religious organization.

Title VII prohibits an employer from segregating an employee based on the employee's religion and customs. For example, in some religions, individuals are required to wear distinctive attire or maintain specific grooming habits.

Although there is no law against mild teasing or comments related to an employee's religious beliefs, if such behavior becomes severe, it may rise to the level of harassment. Harassment in the workplace becomes illegal if it is so severe it creates a hostile work environment or if it results in an employee's termination or demotion. If you believe that you have suffered religious discrimination in the workplace, contact an attorney to discuss your rights.

Reasonable Accommodations Requirement

An employer must make reasonable accommodations to recognize an employee's religious practices. For example, flexible scheduling or simple modifications to workplace practices may be requested by religious employees.

Many workplaces outline dress codes and grooming requirements in their employee handbooks. However, some religions observe strict dress and grooming practices that may not match the company's policy. Unless it would cause undue hardship to the employer, the employer must accommodate the employee's religious practices.

Common religious practices that may require reasonable accommodation include:

  • Religious attire
  • Facial hair
  • Head coverings
  • Specific hairstyles
  • Religious holiday observances

An employer may refuse accommodation if it would cause undue hardship to the company. An accommodation may be considered unreasonable if it is expensive, affects workplace safety, infringes on other employees' rights, decreases productivity or efficiency, or puts an unfair burden on other employees.

While employers are required to provide reasonable accommodations to suit an employee's religious beliefs, an employer cannot make any employee participate in a religious activity as a condition of employment.

According to the EEOC, employers are required to allow their employees to participate in religious expression at work as long as it does not cause undue hardship. In practice, however, it is difficult to know where to draw that line.

If you have questions about religious expression in the workplace or seek the assistance of an attorney, contact the law firm of Mays & Kerr. Our knowledgeable attorneys have a deep understanding of the protections provided by Title VII of the Civil Rights Act. We can help you understand the rights that you are afforded under the law. If you are an employer who has received a complaint of religious discrimination, we can evaluate your policies to ensure that your organization complies with the laws and help protect you from liability.