Know Your Religious Rights in the Workplace

Employees have a right to be free from discrimination in the workplace that is based on their religious rights.

Discrimination occurs when an employer makes a distinction that has the effect of excluding the employee, denying benefits, or imposing burdens on the employee on the grounds of his or her religion. “Religion” includes practices and beliefs that are part of the employee’s faith or creed.  It does not include personal moral, ethical or political views.

Some forms of religious discrimination are obvious and direct.  For example, an employer’s policy not to hire people from a particular religious group is clearly discriminatory.

There are also less obvious forms of discrimination.  For example, an employer’s policy to have employees work a particular day of the week may have a discriminatory effect on religious groups who require that day off as their holy day.

Many people think that, as long as discrimination is not intended, it does not exist in the workplace.  This is a misconception.  Discrimination may be found regardless of one’s intention to discriminate.  What is important is whether the conduct does, in fact, have a discriminatory effect on the employee.

Where discrimination exists, employers are required to make modifications in the workplace to accommodate the employee’s religious practices.  The exception to this rule is if accommodation would cause the employer undue hardship because of cost, or health and safety reasons.  Employers would be able to avoid accommodation if they can prove that their business cannot sustain the costs of accommodating an employee’s religious practices.  However, the employer must have made significant attempts to accommodate before such a claim can succeed.  There have been very few cases where employers have been able to meet this onerous burden.

If you believe you have been discriminated in the workplace because of your religion, or would like to learn more about your religious rights, contact one of our lawyers today.

Author: Ozlem Yucel, Whitten & Lublin