Claims of religious discrimination in the workplace continue to rise in both federal and state courts. To avoid embarrassing and costly lawsuits, employers must know their rights to impose reasonable policies, rules, and restrictions on employees, as well as the rights of employees and job applicants who are entitled to reasonable accommodations for their religious beliefs and practices.
Being discriminated against because of practicing a certain religion is still a reality for many employees. Employers may think that their actions don’t have serious consequences, and employees may not have a clear understanding of their rights and protections available to them.
In this article, we discuss how to deal with religious discrimination in the workplace and what employers should do to properly handle this type of discrimination.
How Does Law Protect the Practice of Religion in the Workplace?
Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 covers the practice of religion in the workplace, prohibiting employers from treating employees unfairly based on their religious beliefs and practices or lack of belief. This protection applies to any form of religious discrimination throughout the employment process, including hiring, promotions, salary, leave, wages, benefits, and firing.
Title VII also requires that employers reasonably accommodate employees’ religious, ethical, and moral beliefs and practices unless doing so would impose an undue hardship on the employer. According to the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC), religious observances or practices may include:
- Attending worship services
- Wearing religious symbols or clothes and displaying religious objects
- Adhering to religious dietary restrictions
- Refraining from certain activities
Workplace discrimination and harassment based on religion may occur when job candidates or employees are required or coerced to abandon, change, or adopt a religious practice as a condition of employment or when candidates or employees are subjected to unwanted remarks or conduct based on religion. This includes employees who are discriminated against because they profess no religious beliefs.
If an employer is found liable, they may be required to pay back wages or front pay, and more if the religious discrimination is found to be intentional. If so, an employer must pay compensatory and punitive damages. Damages may also be awarded as a punishment for intentional religious discrimination.
How To Handle Religious Discrimination in the Workplace?
Employers are responsible for religious discrimination in the workplace, even if they are unaware that it is happening. Complaints about workplace religious discrimination could lead to lawsuits and costly penalties. That is why employers need to take serious action to stop any form of religious discrimination in their company. Here are some steps to handle this form of discrimination in the workplace:
1. Conduct Fair Job Interviews
In interviews, employers should ensure nondiscriminatory treatment by asking all candidates the same questions, only inquiring about matters directly related to the job position in question.
2. Acknowledge Religious Practices
Employers should include various religious and cultural holidays on a calendar to help set work schedules. They should be mindful of such dates when planning meetings or events and raise employee awareness of upcoming faith-related events.
3. Post Religious Discrimination Notices
A good way to prevent workplace religious discrimination is to post notices throughout the office, describing what religious discrimination is and saying it will not be tolerated in the workplace. It is good to note that anytime the EEOC settles a workplace religious discrimination case, they require that the employer post notice about religious discrimination and explain the complaint process to employees.
4. Give Religious Discrimination Training
One of the reasons why religious discrimination happens in the workplace is because employees are unaware of what type of behavior makes it illegal. Employers should provide training on religious discrimination and teach their employees through demonstration what religious discrimination is, emphasizing that it’s unacceptable in their company. This way, employers can provide information on the law as well as on their company policy in this matter.
5. Grant Time-off To Employees For Religious Reasons
Employers should be flexible with religions that require worship at specific times. For example, they can allow employees to use their lunch break for worship even if it is normally at a different time. Also, they can allow employees to use personal (paid or unpaid) leave for religious holidays.
6. Adopt a No Tolerance Policy
It is always beneficial to stress that religious discrimination will not be tolerated in your workplace, even if it seems obvious. Employees need to know that the company will not be negligent when addressing issues and cases of religious discrimination. By doing this, you are helping employees feel more secure about practicing their religion while at work.
7. Create a Clear Complaint Process
Defining a clear complaint process is another great way of addressing religious discrimination in the workplace. It can have a deterrent effect since employees will know that it is possible to complain about religious discrimination and that the company backs up its complaint process policy. As a result, employees may be less likely to engage in discriminatory behavior.
8. Explicitly Address Religious Discrimination in Your Employment Policy
An employment discrimination policy is a must in every company. When creating an employment discrimination policy, employers should specifically address instances of religious discrimination, such as the company’s stance on religious dress and styles in the workplace, which can prevent misunderstandings and complications down the line.
9. Accept Attire and Grooming Tied to Religious Beliefs
Some religious practices, such as wearing a hijab, beard, or turban, are protected by law. Employers should accommodate religious attire and other symbols when there are no health and safety risks for the employee with the attire or other workers.
10. Provide a Prayer Room During Working Hours
Employers should try to accommodate employees’ religious needs by having a separate prayer, meditation, and reflection room.
11. Offer Different Meal Options
If possible, employers should consider the dietary requirements of their employees during company lunches, meetings and events by including vegetarian, halal, and kosher options. Employers should also provide other drink options for those who abstain from alcohol at such events.
Companies provide a better experience for employees when they support the practice of religion and beliefs at work. Clear policies and regular training on how to accommodate religious expression can reduce the number of discrimination and harassment claims and foster a respectful and diverse workplace in which everyone can be successful at their job without compromising their religious belief or causing undue hardship to the company.
However, some employers overstep the bounds of law and violate religious discrimination laws, forcing their employees to complain and even file lawsuits to protect their rights and win remedies and penalties.
To find out whether you have a case worth pursuing, feel free to contact Cilenti & Cooper today. We treat every case with the attention and care it deserves and can fight for your rights from beginning to end. We offer a free consultation to all of our prospective clients, so you have nothing to lose.