Discrimination Against Religion: Everything You Need to Know

Discrimination against religion is something that all companies take seriously. However, there are many instances when this occurs on the job. With that said, it is good to know your rights, just in case, there are some instances that need to be documented.

What is Religious Discrimination?

Religious discrimination is unequal treatment of an individual or group of people based on their religion, whether it occur in or outside of the workplace. This can also include discriminating against someone for not practicing religion. Some examples of discrimination against religion include:

  • Discriminating against religious clothing
  • Discriminating against a religious holiday
  • Discriminating against a religious belief

Which Federal Law Covers Religious Discrimination?

Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 ("Title VII") is a government law that prohibits people from discriminating against someone’s religion. Title VII makes it illegal for businesses to discriminate against people based on their religious background; it also makes it illegal for businesses to terminate or otherwise demote or fail to promote due to such religious beliefs.

Notwithstanding the government law, a majority of states additionally have laws that make discrimination on the premise of religion unlawful. A few states may likewise give extra assurances to those practicing certain religions, i.e., those who cannot work on Saturdays or those who must take off for certain religious holidays.  The law against discrimination because of religion or conviction does not cover simply political convictions unless they are additionally philosophical convictions.

What is the Religious Freedom Restoration Act (RFRA)?

In 1993, Congress approved the Religious Freedom Restoration Act (RFRA), which states that no one can prohibit the exercise of religion unless it’s in furtherance of a compelling government interest. This is a high scrutiny test, which most times, cannot be met. Therefore, people have a right to exercise their religion as they see fit unless the employer can prove that it is prohibiting the exercise of the person’s religion in furtherance of a compelling government interest. Several states have now enacted their own laws under administrative statutes. Those states include: Alaska, Arizona, Alabama, Connecticut, Florida, Indiana, Idaho, Illinois, Missouri, Massachusetts, Minnesota, New Mexico, Ohio, Rhode Island, Oklahoma, Pennsylvania, South Carolina, Texas, Washington, and Wisconsin.

Who Enforces the Federal Law?

The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) is the organization in charge of ensuring that most people with certain characteristics and traits, i.e., religion, sex, disability, sexual orientation, etc. are not discriminated against and have an equal right to work in the same position as others. Most states have their own organizations that authorize state laws that prohibit discrimination.

Who is Safeguarded Under the Federal Rule?

Title VII covers every private business, state and nearby governments, and other organizations that employ at least 15 people. Therefore, by law, you cannot be discriminated against for your religion or conviction if you:

  •  Practice any kind of religion, including but not limited to Christianity, Judaism or Islam
  •  If you incorporate religion and philosophy into your practicing
  •  If you are an atheist
  •  If you participate in an organizational type of religion, such as Scientology

Therefore, if you partake in any type of religious action, belief, or dressing (headwrap, dress, etc.), you cannot be discriminated against in the workplace. Therefore, if a colleague is making embarrassing comments against you based on what you are wearing (and you are wearing something that is affiliated with your religious beliefs), then you should immediately ask your colleague to stop, and tell your manager. It would also be wise to reach out to HR and ensure that they speak to the individual so that the person making such comments understands the consequences of his or her actions. Moreover, it is illegal for a manager to terminate you simply due to your religious beliefs. Another example here would be if you practice Scientology. If your manager disagrees with your beliefs and doesn’t want you to continue speaking about it in the workplace, he or she cannot terminate you for that reason. While your manager can certainly ask that you not discuss your beliefs in the workplace, your manager cannot terminate you or demote you or otherwise overlook you as a potential candidate for a promotion simply because of your religious beliefs.

Can My Manager Force Me to Work on a Religious Holiday?

You should begin by telling your boss that there is a problem with working on that specific day due to your religious observances. If, however, your manager doesn’t understand or agree, then you will need to have HR intervene. You’ll want to discuss the problem you are having with HR and your manager, indicating that, due to your religious beliefs, you cannot work on that specific day. Regardless, your manager is required to abide by your religious observances and cannot force you to work on a religious holiday. The only exception would be if it creates an undue hardship on the part of the employer. The EEOC has defined an undue hardship to be one that diminishes working environment effectiveness or encroaches on colleagues’ privileges. If this cannot be proven, however, then you will not be required to work that day.

Keep in mind that your employer and manager are trusting that you do in fact observe that holiday and aren’t trying to simply earn an additional day off from work. While most people are honest in their religious backgrounds, the manager or employer can also rely on your history of attendance in determining whether or not you truly observe the holiday. But, of course, if your manager rejects your request, you will want to have HR intervene and assist you.

What is Considered Retaliation?

Retaliation happens if, after you’ve made some sort of formal complaint, your manager treats you unfairly. For example, if you make a formal complaint to HR and senior management regarding your relationship with your manager, and your manager finds out that you made this complaint, then any negative actions he or she takes toward you is considered retaliation. This is illegal. Your manager cannot retaliate against you in any way, and this could likely cost your manager his or her job. Further, your employer cannot retaliate against you. Another example here would be if you contact the EEOC with a formal complaint having alleged that you were discriminated against based on your religion. Once your employer finds out, the HR department will know about the complaint. Any negative action taken on the part of your employer – meaning your manager, senior manager, colleagues, or HR department, is illegal. For example, if you are terminated because of it, you likely have several claims, including a lawsuit, with which you can bring against your employer.

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