Discrimination Law

Religious Discrimination

Religious freedom is something everyone in the United States is familiar with. Unfortunately, people sometimes suffer unfair treatment at work because of their religious beliefs. Poor treatment can come from your boss or coworkers. It can lead to low morale and a hostile work environment. That’s why we have laws making religious discrimination in the workplace illegal.

This article discusses religious discrimination at work. State laws vary, so you should contact an employment lawyer in your area if you think you’ve been the victim of religious discrimination. An experienced attorney can help you determine if you have a case.

What Is Employment Discrimination?

Generally, employment discrimination is when your employer treats you unfairly because of your:

  • Race
  • Color
  • National origin
  • Sex, including your sexual orientation or if you’re pregnant
  • Religion
  • Disability
  • Age
  • Genetic material

State and federal laws prohibit employment discrimination. Some state laws protect more characteristics.

What Is Religious Discrimination?

Religious discrimination is discrimination based on your religious beliefs. Spiritual practices can also be the subject of discrimination.

State and federal laws make it illegal for your boss to mistreat you because of your religion. Unfair treatment can show up in many areas of employment, such as the following:

  • Hiring
  • Firing
  • Promotions
  • Dress codes

It’s illegal to discriminate against you because you’re married to someone of a particular religion. Your employer also can’t force you to participate in religious activities as a condition of employment.

Religious harassment happens when you’re subjected to derogatory comments about your religion. Isolated incidents likely don’t violate the law, but it becomes illegal when it’s severe enough to create a hostile work environment and you dread going to work.

The government defines religion broadly. Any sincerely held religious belief can qualify. So, the laws don’t only protect people who follow traditional religions like Buddhism, Christianity, Islam, and Judaism. They also protect people with less mainstream religious views.

What Is a Religious Accommodation?

Employers in the U.S. must provide reasonable accommodations for your religious beliefs. That means adapting your work environment so you can practice your religion.

Allowing schedule changes, flexible scheduling, and leave for religious observances is a common accommodation. Employees can use shift swaps and substitutions so they can observe religious holidays.

Employers also must accommodate religious dress and grooming practices. These include wearing particular head coverings. A Jewish yarmulke and a Muslim hijab are examples. Employers should also accommodate hairstyles and facial hair. Examples of these include Rastafarian dreadlocks and Sikh beards and hair.

Your employer doesn’t have to make a religious accommodation if it causes undue hardship to the business. An accommodation may cause undue hardship when it:

  • Compromises safety for employees, customers, or both
  • Is too expensive for the business
  • Lowers productivity
  • Infringes the rights of other employees
  • Creates extra work for other employees

The law also allows for an exception in hiring for religious organizations. For example, a Muslim organization can prefer Muslim job applicants.

What Employers Do Religious Discrimination Laws Cover?

Generally, federal anti-discrimination laws apply to employers with 15 or more employees. Employers include private employers, labor unions, employment agencies, and state and local governments.

Some state laws cover smaller employers. A local employment law attorney will know whether state laws or local anti-discrimination ordinances apply to your claims.

How Do I Report Religious Discrimination?

Most employers have procedures for reporting problems to their human resources department (HR). But if you are not comfortable reporting incidents to HR, you can file a complaint with a federal or state government agency, which an attorney can help you do.

How Do I Prove Religious Discrimination?

Winning a religious discrimination claim can be difficult. Take the following steps to improve your chances:

  • Document any incidents of religious discrimination you experience. Include information like the date, time, location, people involved, and a description of what happened.
  • Document the accommodations you requested. Include whether your employer granted or denied your request and the reasoning.
  • Ask for the name and contact information of anyone who witnessed any incidents of discrimination.
  • Gather your employment records, including your performance evaluations. Also, collect emails, memos, and documents that show discrimination.
  • Compare your treatment to coworkers. Look for preferential treatment for people with different religious beliefs from yours.

What Can I Win in a Religious Discrimination Case?

The damages available in a religious discrimination case include the following:

  • Back pay for lost wages you suffered because of the discrimination.
  • Front pay for future lost wages when you can’t be reinstated. Front pay covers from the end of the case to when you find a new job.
  • Compensatory damages for the harm you suffered. Injuries in this case can include emotional distress and mental anguish.
  • Punitive damages to punish your employer for egregious discriminatory acts.
  • Reimbursement for attorney’s fees and legal costs.

Contact an Employment Lawyer for Help With Your Case

State and federal laws make religious discrimination at work illegal. If you think you’re the victim of discrimination, you should contact an employment lawyer in your area. They can evaluate the facts, explain the laws that apply to your case, and help you determine the best way to proceed. Even if you choose to go to HR, your attorney can assist you and even speak on your behalf.

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