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Religious Discrimination at Work: What Are the Rules?


Religious discrimination is one area of discrimination that is often mentioned in the news, yet is a very complex and abstract topic. Particularly where one individual’s religious beliefs conflict with another individual’s exercise of his or her rights, the subject area can become confusing. That is why it is important for employees to understand what their employers are and are not allowed to do when it comes to religious discrimination.

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What Does the Law Say About Religious Discrimination?

While each individual state has its own laws that may provide further protections against religious discrimination, the main federal law that prohibits such discrimination is the Civil Rights Act. Religious discrimination under this law involves treating an employee or prospective employee differently because of his or her religious beliefs.

While members of major religions like Christianity, Islam, and Judaism are all protected, a person does not have to be a member of a specific well-known and official religious group to be protected. Anyone who has a sincerely held religious, ethical, or moral belief cannot be discriminated against because of that belief. Additionally, one cannot be discriminated against because he or she is married to or otherwise associated with someone who holds some particular religious belief. Finally, harassment based on religious beliefs is also forbidden.

Like in Disability Discrimination, Reasonable Accommodations are Required

Those who are aware of the Americans with Disabilities Act know that employers are required to make certain reasonable accommodations for workers living with disabilities. What most people do not know, however, is that employers are also required to accommodate certain religious beliefs. Employers are required to accommodate religious beliefs in the workplace so long as doing so would not cause more than a minimal burden on the operation of the employer’s business. These accommodations can include:

? Scheduling time off for religious observances or holidays. For example, USA Today reports that a Dunkin’ Donuts franchise has been sued because it would not hire a Seventh-Day Adventist who could not work on Saturdays because of his beliefs.

? Accommodating religious dress and grooming practices. This can include wearing specific garments or wearing specific hairstyles or facial hairstyles. On the flip side, this can also include religious beliefs that prohibit wearing certain garments; for example, if a person’s religious belief in modesty prevents him or her from wearing short sleeves.

An employer can get out of making these religious accommodations if doing so would cause an undue hardship for the employer. Examples of hardships may include:

? Providing the accommodation would be too costly for the employer.

? Allowing the accommodation would sacrifice workplace safety. An example of this would be where a person’s beliefs require them to wear long, loose garments that could be caught in machinery necessary to use for a job.

? The accommodation would decrease workplace efficiency.

? Allowing the accommodation would infringe on other employees’ rights. An example of this would be proselytization in the work place.

? Allowing the accommodation would require other employees to do more than their fair share of hazardous or burdensome work.

Tell Us What You Think

Do you know about a business that practices religious discrimination? We want to hear from you! Leave a comment or join the discussion on Twitter.

Daniel Kalish
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