Federal law prohibits religious discrimination. Are you protecting all of your employees?
Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 prohibits employment discrimination based on religion. This includes refusing to accommodate an employee’s sincerely-held religious beliefs or practices. Take a few minutes to review the key tenets of workplace religious accommodation and make sure you are protecting all of your employees.
Federal law defines “religion” broadly. It includes traditional organized religions such as Christianity, Judaism, Islam, Hinduism, and Buddhism; but the definition also extends to beliefs that are new, uncommon, and not part of a formal church or sect. A “sincerely-held belief” includes one that is newly adopted, not consistently observed, or different from the commonly followed doctrines of any specific religion.
Job applicants and employees can obtain exceptions to rules or policies that clash with their religious beliefs or practices. Common religious accommodations include:
· The need for exemption from the company’s dress code for religious practices, such as a Muslim woman who wears a hijab (religious headscarf) or a Pentecostal Christian woman who doesn’t wear slacks or pants.
· The need to take off work for religious services or observations.
· The need to be excused from various job tasks for religious reasons.
According to the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, employers need to make religious accommodations unless these would impose an “undue hardship.” Examples of this includes accommodations that violate a seniority system, cause a lack of necessary staffing, or jeopardize security or health. If a schedule change would cause an undue hardship, the employer must allow co-workers to volunteer to swap shifts to accommodate the employee’s religious belief or practice. If the employee can’t be accommodated in his or her current position, the employer may transfer him or her to another vacant position. Note that infrequent overtime pay for shift changes, customer preference, and co-worker “disgruntlement” don’t quality as “undue hardship” or justify denial of a religious accommodation.
It is important to know federal and state laws about religious accommodation. Title VII prohibits private employers from discriminating against employees or job applicants based on race, color, religion, sex, or national origin. At the same time, various state laws also prevent discrimination. Generally, the courts have found that while companies don’t have to agree to all religion-related requests from employees, they must make an attempt at reasonable accommodation.