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Religious Discrimination in the Workplace: What You Should Know

27886868Despite efforts to prevent all types of discrimination in the workplace, people are still harassed and abused on a regular basis while working. Discrimination on a religious basis is no exception. Individuals are still treated differently in the workplace because of their religious beliefs and practices, even though the law is supposed to prevent this from happening.

What can you do if you believe you are a victim of religious discrimination in the workplace?

Defining Religious Discrimination

First, it’s important to understand the definition of religious discrimination.

Religious discrimination occurs when an employee is treated differently, positively or negatively, solely on the basis of his or her religion, beliefs, or spiritual practices. Discrimination also occurs when an employee’s reasonable accommodations for religious beliefs are not granted.

Protection extends to those who have no religious beliefs or practices, as well as those involved in a particular religion or spiritual practice. So it doesn’t matter if someone is Christian, Jewish, or Muslim, or if he or she holds sincere feelings toward a belief system that is not affiliated with an organized church or religion.

It doesn’t even matter if a person believes in no religion at all. Religious discrimination protections are available to all, as long as the belief is sincerely held, even if it is not understood or followed by others.

If you have been denied work, terminated, denied advancement, denied accommodation, or otherwise harmed in the workplace because of your faith or because you have no faith, it could be a case of religious discrimination in the workplace.

Identifying Religious Discrimination

There are three main types of religious discrimination:

  • Disparate treatment
  • Hostile work environment
  • Failure to accommodate

Examples of religious discrimination in the workplace include, but are not limited to:

  • Denying a job applicant work because of his or her religious schedule
  • Terminating an employee for missing time due to a religious holiday
  • Promoting someone based on attendance at church
  • Reassigning an employee to a less public position because of religious clothing or appearance
  • Teasing employees or disciplining them for religious practices
  • Allowing employees to badger a co-worker over religious beliefs or non-belief

It is also illegal to deny reasonable accommodation that would enable an employee to engage in religious practice without it conflicting with work obligations. Unless an employer can show that an accommodation causes undue hardship, they are required by law to grant it.

How the Law Protects Against Religious Discrimination

The primary law that protects against religious discrimination in the workplace is Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964.

The civil rights act is intended to protect against discrimination and specifically addresses religious discrimination in the workplace. The law:

  • Outlaws religious discrimination regarding hiring, firing, promoting, compensation, and training
  • Requires employers to offer reasonable accommodations as long as they do not create an undue hardship
  • Ensures employers cannot require employees to participate in or refrain from religious activities as a condition of employment
  • Requires employers do everything possible to prevent harassment in the workplace
  • States that employers may not retaliate if an employee files a grievance concerning religious discrimination

Additionally, states have created laws to further protect against religious discrimination. For instance, New York’s Human Rights Law prohibits employment discrimination because of religion. The Act covers all employers with four or more employees.

To learn more about the enhanced protection offered by New York’s Human Rights Law check out this information from the NY Division of Human Rights.

What You Can Do If You Believe You’re Facing Religious Discrimination

The first thing you should do if you believe you are a victim of religious discrimination is file a grievance with your employer or with your employee union. In many cases, the human resources department will help you resolve the matter.

If the issue is not resolved or you suspect the issue will not be resolved and time is an issue, you can speak to an attorney familiar with workplace discrimination laws. There is a limited amount of time in which you have to file a lawsuit and if you believe the statute of limitations could expire before there is a resolution, you don’t want to risk running out of time.

For more information or to speak to someone about religious discrimination and how it might be affecting you, contact Borrelli & Associates, P.L.L.C. for more information.

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