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Have you suffered discrimination at work because of your religious beliefs?

The United States was founded by individuals who, in part, sought freedom from religious persecution. Rights related to religious freedom are outlined in the First Amendment and extend to the workplace via federal and state laws, most notably, Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 which bars employers from discriminating against an employee on the basis of "race, color, religion, sex or national origin."

When it comes to an employee's or prospective employee's religion and related beliefs, Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, bans employers from engaging in discriminatory acts with regard to the following:

  • Hiring actions (recruiting and referrals)
  • Promotions within a company
  • Work assignments 
  • Requests for reasonable accommodations 

While the laws related to religious discrimination in the workplace are clear, in practice such issues are often much more complicated and confusing. For example, some employees' religious beliefs may necessitate that they dress a certain way, eat or avoid certain foods or shun specific activities and behaviors. Additionally, members of some religious faiths may be required to pray during certain times of the day or fast during certain times of the year. Legally, employers are required to do their best to accommodate employees' religious beliefs, provided that such accommodations do not place an undue burden upon an employer.

Reasonable accommodations based on religious beliefs may include the following:

  • Schedule or shift changes
  • Minor adjustments to a work dress code
  • Time allowances for daily prayers
  • Job or department transfers
  • Exemptions from activities or actions that conflict with an employee's religious beliefs

In cases where an employee is the target of harassment, discrimination or retaliatory actions because of his or her religious beliefs or where an employer fails to provide a reasonable accommodation related to an employee's religious beliefs, it's wise to seek the advice and assistance of an attorney.  

Source: Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, "Questions and Answers: Religious Discrimination in the Workplace," April 28, 2016

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