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Religious Harassment: Am I a Victim?

There are numerous different types of harassment that can occur within a workplace. It’s possible for employees to be harassed based on a variety of factors and one of them is religion.

According to the EEOC, there are two different types of religious harassment.

The first occurs when an employee is forced to abandon or change his or her religious beliefs as a condition of employment. The other involves unwelcome of pervasive comments or behavior regarding an employee’s religion. In either instance, the work environment will be hostile or downright abusive, and you’ll feel as if a choice must be made between dealing with the harassment and your job.

The good news is you can do something about religious harassment. Nobody should be forced to deal with a hostile work environment related to his or her religion. Furthermore, it’s illegal for people to treat you poorly in the workplace due to your religion.

Religious Harassment Laws Apply to All Religions

The Civil Rights Act of 1964 made it clear that discrimination laws, including those that protect people from religious harassment, apply to all religious – not just those that are well-known or established. Even if your beliefs are not associated with an official church, you have protection against religious discrimination.

These laws ensure employees are not treated differently because of their beliefs, and keep them from being harassed or prevented from observing their religious traditions in the workplace. The federal law apply to employers with at least 15 employees, with the exception of religious organizations.

New York’s Human Rights Law provides further protection against discrimination and ensures everyone is free to work in an environment free of religious harassment and applies to all employers with four or more employees. The New York law goes expands on the federal law and prohibits employers acting directly, or indirectly through others, to impose circumstances that would force individuals to forego religious observances as a condition of employment.

For more information about the New York’s Human Rights Law, visit New York State’s Division of Human Right’s website.

Identifying Religious Harassment in the Workplace

Harassment comes in a variety of shapes and sizes, and while some instances are obvious, other instances of harassment can be subtle.

Religious harassment laws ban offensive jokes and comments about religion in the workplace. Any comment regarding another person’s religion counts as harassment if it creates a hostile working environment.

Sharing an opinion about a religion is not considered harassment under federal laws, but making derogatory or hostile comments toward a religion is harassment. The Supreme Court, in the past, has ruled that off-hand or isolated comments are not necessarily harassment, but if someone has made a comment about your religion that made you uncomfortable, you should consider reporting it. At least make a note of the comment in case the situation escalates.

Another type of religious harassment comes in the form of trying to convert co-workers to a religion. Talking about your religion is acceptable, but preaching your faith or trying to convert co-workers to your religion is considered harassment.

This is one of the more complicated aspects of religious harassment because what might be general discussion to one person might seem like proselytizing to another. And if the person discussing his or her religion is disciplined for trying to convert co-workers when that was not his or her intention, that discipline can be seen as religious harassment.

The final form of religious harassment pertains to denying religious freedoms to employees. By law, employers must make accommodations for an employee’s religious beliefs. This means providing time to observe daily prayers or participate in religious holidays, even if they are not company-wide religious holidays. Employees must also be permitted to wear clothing and jewelry related to their religion.

Not accommodating or terminating an employee because of these beliefs is considered harassment.

If you believe you’ve been a victim of religious harassment, we can help. For more information on federal, state, and local laws concerning religious protections in the workplace, contact Borrelli & Associates, P.L.L.C.


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