Religious Discrimination: Is Your Employer Breaking Civil Rights Laws?

Religious Discrimination Attorney in New York City, NY

Religious Discrimination: Is Your Employer Breaking Civil Rights Laws?

Religious discrimination at work is fairly widespread. It happens whenever an employer (or a coworker, client, or customer) treats an employee unfairly or unequally on the basis of that employee’s sincerely held religious beliefs or practices. This kind of discrimination is often against the law.

Which Religions Are Protected?

All of them: all Christian denominations, and all denominations of all other religions, including Islam, Judaism, Buddhism, Hinduism, and all the rest. The main law that governs this issue is Title VII of the Civil Rights Act, which broadly defines religion in terms of “sincerely held beliefs.”

No matter which religion an employee practices, an employer must not violate certain protected rights involving the expression of sincerely held beliefs in the workplace.

What About Non-Religious People?

The concept of “sincerely held beliefs” carries over to groups not typically considered religious, but whose personal ethics, principles, or acts of self-expression can be reasonably compared to a religious moral code.

Therefore, atheists, agnostics, humanists, and others are also frequently protected from religious discrimination. This means a right not to participate in workplace religious ceremonies or prayers, and, in some cases, a right to forms of self-expression like facial hair, tattoos, and piercings.

What Are the Exceptions?

There are many exceptions. For example, religious organizations such as churches have more leeway to impose certain religious demands on their employees.

Another exception is when religious discrimination would violate the law. For instance, sexual harassment or gender discrimination on the basis of religious attitudes about men and women is usually not legal.

In practice, you’ll need to consult with an employment law attorney to get a better understanding of the legality of workplace practices in your particular situation.

What Protections Are Offered?

The law offers protection against harassment on the basis of religion. A Mormon, Muslim, or atheist working in a predominantly-Baptist organization has a right to not be mocked, interrogated, or otherwise harassed because of their religion.

An employer must also accommodate reasonable religion-based requests. For instance, the law requires that an employee may request time set aside to pray, and a private area for devotion or worship. An employer must also accommodate certain expressions of religious dress or appearance. Unless such accommodations are unreasonably costly, hazardous, or otherwise burdensome to a business, an employer must by law honor these requests.

These protections apply to all aspects of employment: hiring, firing, wages, benefits, and promotions. The law also applies to employees whose spouse practices a particular religion (or lack thereof).

Employers who deny reasonable religion-based requests, without providing clear evidence that such accommodations would cause undue burden to the business, might be engaging in religious discrimination, and would therefore be in violation of the law and liable for damages.