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What You Should Know about Religious Discrimination in the Workplace

Religious freedom is protected under the US Constitution, as well as several state and federal laws that protect against specific actions in the workplace that could constitute religious discrimination. This means that anyone who feels attacked, targeted, or treated differently because of his or her religion has the right to take legal action against his or her employer. If you suspect you are a victim of religious discrimination in the workplace, what do you need to know?

Like all forms of discrimination, religious discrimination is not always obvious or direct. You might feel your work environment is less-than-desirable or that you have been denied opportunities because of your religion. There are also instances in which a person might be denied certain religious accommodations.

What is Religious Discrimination?

The US Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) defines religious harassment as an action that is “… so frequent or severe that it creates a hostile or offensive work environment.” Random, offhand comments and teasing, especially if they are isolated and there is no pattern of harassment, are usually overlooked, but if you experience random comments, it’s still important to record the event, in case a pattern does develop.

Though it might be uncomfortable for someone of a certain religion to be surrounded by celebrations related to other religions, this does not necessarily warrant discrimination. For instance, if your boss tempts you with food excluded from your diet for religious reasons or you are fasting, it’s likely not an example of discrimination, provided it’s a one-time occurrence.

However, if you fast on a regular basis, and every time you are in the midst of a fast a co-worker comments on or taunts you into breaking your fast, it could be a basis for religious discrimination. Events that lead to a hostile work environment, as opposed to one-time foolish behavior by co-workers or supervisors, constitute discrimination.

How to Make Things Easier in the Workplace

Some companies have gone so far as to forego any celebrations that could be construed as religious in nature. For instance, they’ve opted to plan a summer picnic for employees, in lieu of a holiday celebration to avoid making anyone uncomfortable.

Even those that have not gone this far still make it a point to include everyone in workplace celebrations by not making the events overly religious. In most workplaces, parties and gift exchanges are all-inclusive and intended to create team spirit without offending anyone.

If you are uncomfortable with any of the team-building or social events at your workplace, it’s best to speak to your supervisor privately about your intentions. He or she can speak to you about your preferences and make accommodations for you to ensure you feel comfortable without cancelling the event.

Unfortunately, you could still encounter an obnoxious co-worker or pushy boss who fails to honor or respect your religious practices. If you feel the situation has escalated into ongoing religious discrimination in the workplace, you have a right to take legal action.

For more information or to discuss the circumstances of your situation with someone who can help, contact Borrelli & Associates, P.L.L.C. to discuss your situation.



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