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What Does Religious Discrimination Look Like?

October 31, 2023 Discrimination

In 2023, discrimination in the workplace is rarely overt. On the one hand, it is encouraging that more and more employers have recognized their obligation to be fair and equitable and take action when faced with complaints alleging discrimination. On the other hand, the more subtle forms of discrimination can be difficult to detect, especially when it comes to discriminating against someone based on their beliefs. Even employees can be confused as to their rights when they are being discriminated against in some subtle manner. 

Religion is one of those areas where it can be difficult to detect discrimination and even employees are unsure of their rights. If you are wondering whether you are being discriminated against at work based on your religion, a religious discrimination lawyer can provide you with valuable guidance and explain your options. 

Common Examples of Religious Discrimination in the Workplace

Religious discrimination can be more difficult to identify than other types of discrimination. However, people who face discrimination based on their faith often experience it in very similar ways. Some of the more common examples of religious discrimination that employers engage in include the following: 

  • Scheduling employees to work shifts or hours that conflict with their religious practices
  • Enforcement of a dress code or grooming policy that prohibits religious dress or hairstyles
  • Refusal to allow observance of religious holidays
  • Assigning less favorable duties or shifts based on their religious beliefs

In general, treating someone differently based on their religion is discrimination and illegal under both federal and California law. This includes more than just forcing an employee to act against their religious beliefs or customs – discrimination can include any adverse action such as termination, passing over for promotion, assignment to a less desirable location, denial of benefits, or demotion of any form. If you have experienced any adverse treatment in the workplace due to your religion, you should contact a religious discrimination attorney as soon as possible. 

Discriminatory Hiring Practices

Legal protections against discrimination do not apply only to employees – it is also illegal to discriminate against job applicants on the basis of their religion. This can include refusal to hire someone based on external signs of their religion, such as wearing a yarmulke or other religious dress or based on their name. 

One of the most common ways that employers engage in religious discrimination is by asking illegal questions during the job interview. Some of these questions include the following: 

  • What holidays do you celebrate?
  • Do you go to church? 
  • Where are you originally from? 

As a general rule, your religion is irrelevant to your employment unless you are applying to work with a religiously affiliated organization. Any question that can be used to discern your religious affiliation is prohibited by law. If you were subjected to these or similar questions for a job that you were not hired for, you may be able to pursue a discrimination claim and should contact a religious discrimination lawyer. 

Harassment and Hostile Work Environment

Many workers do not face discrimination in the workplace that involves denial of employment, promotion, or termination. Instead, they are subjected to harassment based on their religion. This can include the following types of conduct: 

  • Derogatory or inappropriate comments concerning their religion
  • Jokes or slurs based on their religion
  • Discriminatory symbols, drawings, or other graphical depictions
  • Threats of bodily harm, unnecessarily aggressive conduct, or behavior intended to intimidate

Making jokes or inappropriate comments about someone’s religion is unacceptable and should never be tolerated. Harassment of this type often creates what is referred to as a hostile work environment. To give rise to a legal claim, however, the conduct must be repetitive and pervasive. In other words, a single comment or other action will likely not give rise to a hostile work environment claim. 

While supervisors or other management personnel are sometimes responsible, hostile work environments are often created by an employee’s co-workers. Regardless, your employer can be held liable if they refuse to take action in response to a known hostile work environment. If you are experiencing harassment and a hostile work environment at your job, a religious discrimination attorney can guide you through the steps you can take to address the situation and protect your rights. 

Religious Discrimination Does Not Need to Be Intentional 

One of the most common refrains that discrimination attorneys hear is that the employer did not act with any discriminatory intent. This is often raised in connection with a policy that may have a disparate impact on particular employees who belong to a protected class under federal or state law. For example: 

  • Dress codes or grooming standards that would require all male employees to be clean-shaven or would not allow employees to wear any type of head covering
  • A scheduling policy that would require all employees to work one Sunday per month
  • Refusal to grant time off for non-federal holidays

The fact that there is no discriminatory intent or that the policy applies equally to all employees is irrelevant if it has an adverse impact on employees due to their religious beliefs or practices. 

Reasonable Accommodations for Religious Employees

If your employer has a policy that is potentially discriminatory, they have an obligation to provide a reasonable accommodation for any employee who is or would be adversely impacted due to their religion. A reasonable accommodation is an adjustment to the work environment that does not burden business operations and allows the employee to practice their religion. For example: 

  • Allowing religious head coverings to be worn so long as it does not create a safety hazard
  • Modifying an employee’s schedule to accommodate religious observances
  • Allowing employees to take time off for religious holidays

If your employer refuses to make a reasonable accommodation, you may have a religious discrimination claim. A religious discrimination lawyer can review your case and explain your options. 

Discriminated Against Due to Your Religion? Contact Attorneys for Employees Today

Your employer has a legal obligation to respect your faith. If you have been discriminated against due to your religion, we can help. Contact Attorneys for Employees to schedule a consultation to discuss your case and your options.