Guest post from a US writer regarding the complex issue of religious discrimination in the business world (mainly based on US law) with some general tips for employers.
Religious freedom in the workplace is one of the most complex and difficult issues an employer must deal with. The law sounds simple enough – Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 (“Title VII”) prohibits religious discrimination by employers in hiring, firing and other terms and conditions of employment. http://www.eeoc.gov/laws/statutes/titlevii.cfm But the actual application of the law to real world situations is never easy. And that’s probably why EEOC claims for religious discrimination under Title VII have gone up about 50% over the past 10 years, from approximately 2,500 in 2002 to about 3,800 in 2012. http://www1.eeoc.gov//eeoc/statistics/enforcement/religion.cfm?renderforprint=1
Employers with 15 or more employees are subject to Title VII, which prohibits employers from treating employees more or less favorably because of their religious beliefs or practices. Among other things, this means that
- Employers may not refuse to hire a person based on their religion.
- Employers may not treat employees differently based on their religion.
- Employees may not be required to participate, or be prohibited from participating,
- in a religious activity in the workplace.
- Employees must act to prevent religious harassment of employees.
- Employers must provide reasonably accommodation to an employee’s sincerely held
- religious beliefs or practices unless doing so would impose an undue hardship on the
What is a reasonable accommodation?
A reasonable accommodation is one which eliminates the conflict between the employee’s religious activities and practices and the employee’s job without causing undue hardship to the employer. For example, an employee may ask for time off for religious holidays or Sabbaths, or ask for permission to wear religious garb or to have opportunities to pray during the work day. The employer must accommodate those requests unless the employer can demonstrate that they would result in an undue hardship.
What is an undue hardship?
The U.S. Supreme Court has ruled that an employer is not required to incur more that minimal costs to accommodate an employee’s religious practices.
http://caselaw.lp.findlaw.com/cgi-bin/getcase.pl?court=US&vol=432&invol=63 And the EEOC has found that Title VII does not require an employer to infringe on the rights of other employees, or require other employees to take over the accommodated employee’s share of work. Nor are employers required to take any action that would reduce workplace safety or violate other laws or regulations.
What “religious” beliefs must be accommodated?
Title VII requires that employers accommodate “sincerely held” religious beliefs, but it does not require that those beliefs be part of any organized or recognized religion. Nor does it require that those “religious beliefs” be logical, consistent, or even comprehensible. The fact that no religious group accepts or recognizes a belief does not affect its protection under Title VII.
The fact is, if an employee claims a “religious” belief, it would be virtually impossible to argue that it is not entitled to accommodation under Title VII. The employer must accommodate the employee’s belief unless the employer can show that to do so would cause an undue hardship.
What can an employer do?
Complying with Title VII is not easy, but here are some tips:
- Make a reasonable effort to accommodate employees’ religious beliefs.
- Include in your employee handbook basic instructions for requesting an accommodation.
- Train managers how to handle requests for accommodation.
- Do not assume you can recognize a religious belief or practice. Consider whether an employee may be requesting a change in rules or schedules for religious reasons.
- If an employee claims a religious basis for requesting an accommodation, don’t judge. Do try to accommodate.
About the Author
Brian Spiro is a freelance writer who focuses on law, legal reform, complex litigation, legal analysis, legal philosophy, social issues and other prominent topics. Brian often writes on workplace issues such as Employee Discrimination and wrongful termination.