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What Is Religious Discrimination?


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Question: What Is Religious Discrimination?

Religious discrimination is adverse work treatment of an employee based on a class or category that the employee belongs to - religious beliefs or practices - rather than on the employee's individual merit.

Religious discrimination is prohibited by Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of l964. According to this Act, religious discrimination by the employer is forbidden in hiring, firing, and other terms and conditions of employment. The Act also requires employers to reasonably accommodate the religious practices of an employee or prospective employee.

Reasonable accommodation can include, as examples, providing:

  • flexible paid holidays,
  • flexible schedules,
  • unpaid time or PTO for religious observances,
  • the opportunity for employees to trade scheduled shifts,
  • employees the right to wear religion-required head gear regardless of work dress code,
  • the opportunity to offer mandatory prayers,
  • job reassignments and lateral transfers, and
  • an interview schedule that accommodates religious practices.

Additionally, it can be considered religious discrimination to ask any questions of a prospective employee that cause him or her to discuss religious beliefs or any religious accommodation that might be required after hire. (It is lawful to state the hours of the position and ask whether the candidate will be able to work the required hours of the position.)

Religious Discrimination and Undue Hardship

Religious accommodation is not required if it causes the employer undue hardship. Undue hardship can be claimed if the accommodation interferes with legitimate business interests. According to the EEOC:

"An employer does not have to accommodate an employee’s religious beliefs or practices if doing so would cause undue hardship to the employer. An accommodation may cause undue hardship if it is costly, compromises workplace safety, decreases workplace efficiency, infringes on the rights of other employees, or requires other employees to do more than their share of potentially hazardous or burdensome work."

Religious discrimination charges are risked if changes to working hours fail to accommodate religious practices. Religious beliefs may not be considered in any employment action involving hiring, firing, choice assignments, promotions and so forth.

Employers are required to enforce a religious discrimination-free workplace in which employees are able to practice their religious beliefs without harassment. Employers must permit employees to engage in religious expression, “unless the religious expression would impose an undue hardship on the employer. Generally, an employer may not place more restrictions on religious expression than on other forms of expression that have a comparable effect on workplace efficiency.”

Employers are required to provide a workplace in which religious harassment of employees is not allowed. This is reinforced by implementing an anti-harassment policy and a harassment complaint investigation policy. It is recommended that anti-harassment training is provided on a regular basis for all employees and that a harassment-free workplace

”It is against the law to retaliate against an individual for opposing employment practices that discriminate based on religion or for filing a discrimination charge, testifying, or participating in any way in an investigation, proceeding, or litigation under Title VII.”

Religious discrimination complaints are handled by the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC), which was created by the Civil Rights Act of 1964.

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