It is illegal to harass a person because of his or her religion. The First Amendment protects against religious discrimination. You have the right to practice- or refrain from practicing- any religion. Both state and federal laws make employment discrimination because of someone’s faith illegal, and protect workers who choose to openly practice the religion of their choice.
Sadly, others in the workplace do not always follow these laws. Supervisors may fail to promote an employee because of their religious faith, and co-workers may mock and harass employees who hold different beliefs. Often, employers turn a blind eye to this illegal harassment, thinking that civil rights laws do not apply to them.
Title VII of The Civil Rights Act
In 1964, Title VII of the Civil Rights Act was passed prohibiting companies and employers from discriminating against the religious beliefs or lack of religious belief when hiring or firing. Title VII also prevents creating any terms and conditions of employment based on religious belief. This section of law also prohibits segregation of tasks or positions based on religion, such as assigning an employee to a non-customer contact position because of actual or feared customer preference.
Religious discrimination includes forcing an employee to participate (or not participate) in a religious activity, and or making it a condition of employment.
Treating someone differently because that person is associated with or married to an someone of a particular religion can also be religious discrimination.
Title VII of the Civil Rights Act requires that employers reasonably accommodate not only the religious beliefs but the practices of applicants and employees. A reasonable religious accommodation would be an accommodation to the job or schedule that would allow the employee to practice their religion. Examples of this would include creating flexible scheduling, shift substitutions or swaps that are voluntary, lateral job reassignments, and exceptions to dress codes or grooming regulations.
If any of these religious accommodations cause undue hardships on the employer’s business, these exceptions will need to be determined on a case by case basis.
The following is a list of examples of potential undue hardships to an employer’s business:
If the accommodation increases costs, decreases efficiency, compromises employee safety, infringes on the rights of other employees, or requires other employees to do more than their fair share of work that is potentially hazardous or burdensome. An employer may also show undue hardship if his business has a seniority system or collective bargaining agreement that would be infringed upon by a religious accommodation.
Religious harassment of employee through offensive remarks about their religious belief or practices is also covered by Title VII. The law doesn’t provide complete coverage or prohibit offhand comments, simple teasing or isolated incidents that aren’t deemed very serious. Instances of unlawful harassment occur when the frequency or severity of the remarks creates a hostile work environment or when it results in the employee/victim being demoted or fired.
Under Title VII, retaliation against an individual for opposing employment practices which discriminate based on religion or for filing a discrimination charge, participating in an investigation, or testifying in litigation is also deemed illegal.
Legal Protections against Religious Discrimination in the Workplace in California
As ethnic and religious minorities know all too well, bias and discrimination extend far beyond the workplace and infect every facet of life in the United States. The federal government and states have passed legislation to protect employees from religious discrimination at work. However, decades after the passage of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and similar legislation at the state level, many employers across the country continue to discriminate against religious minorities.
Muslims, Arabs, South Asians, and Sikhs have borne much of the burden of ethnic and religious discrimination in the workplace in the wake of 9/11.
So, the question remains: What protections are there against religious discrimination in the workplace? The following information gives an overview of your rights in regard to religious discrimination in the workplace in California.
- Prohibition on Discrimination:
Under California’s Fair Employment and Housing Act (FEHA), it is unlawful for an employer with five or more employees to discriminate against an applicant or employee based on a “protected category” such as religion. Harassment based on a protected category is unlawful under FEHA regardless of the employer’s size. Victims of religious discrimination in the workplace have a wide variety of remedies available to them under FEHA, including lost earnings, damages for emotional distress, and punitive damages, among others.
Similarly, Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, a federal law, applies to employers with fifteen or more employees and bans religious discrimination and harassment in the workplace. Under this law, victims of religious discrimination can obtain various remedies such as reinstatement, back pay, and punitive damages, among others.
- Reasonable Accommodations:
Under California Code of Regulations section 11062, employers are required to make reasonable accommodations for employees’ religious practices. “Reasonable accommodation” is defined as, “one that eliminates the conflict between the religious practice and the job requirement.” Examples of reasonable accommodations include timing interviews and other work-related functions to allow for religious observances and enabling employees to practice their religion’s dress and grooming standards. Sometimes this means altering work schedules to ensure that employees can work and observe their religious practices or days of worship.
Employers must make accommodations based on employees’ religion unless making the accommodation would cause undue hardship for the employer. Some considerations that may be taken into account to determine if an accommodation would cause an undue hardship are the size of the employer, the cost of the accommodation, and any alternative accommodations that could be implemented instead, among other considerations. Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 also requires employers to make reasonable accommodations for religious practices, grooming, and dress.
Additionally, Federal law and state law protect employees from retaliation for requesting a reasonable accommodation for religious practices.
If you feel that your rights to religious freedom have been violated, please contact us at the California Civil Rights Law Group. We can assist you in evaluating your case and advising you as to an appropriate course of action.