5 Common Misconceptions About Religious Discrimination in Employment

5 Common Misconceptions About Religious Discrimination in Employment

Most people think religious discrimination is about jokes and off-color remarks but the effects of religious discrimination are much more pronounced than simply dealing with people who don’t understand your religious beliefs. It can cost you your job and can mean resentment amongst your peers if management forces allowances and creates a hostile work environment. If you think you know everything there is to know about religious discrimination in the workplace, think again.

According to the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC), “religious discrimination involves treating a person (an applicant or employee) unfavorably because of his or her religious beliefs.” But as straightforward as that sounds, there are many protections employees are unaware exist.

Popular Misconceptions About Religious Discrimination and Religion at Work

  1. The law only protects major and traditional religions such as Buddhism, Christianity, Hinduism, Islam, and Judaism.  This is not the case. It also protects employees and potential employees who have “sincerely held religious, ethical or moral beliefs” as well as people who have no religious beliefs by being discriminated against by those who do.

  2. The law only protects the employee’s or job candidate’s religious preferences. This is partially true in that the employee or candidate is the one who could potentially be treated unfairly, but the law recognizes that some people make assumptions based on the “company we keep.” So if a spouse or another close relation is a particular religion, you cannot discriminate against the employee or candidate based on that.

  3. The way you look has nothing to do with religious discrimination. Some companies have switched customer- or client-facing employees to a “back” office based on the wearing of religious garb such as a Jewish yarmulke or a Muslim head scarf, or religious grooming practices such as a Rastafarian dreadlocks (or other long hair) or a Sikh’s uncut beard (back before beards were hipster fashion statements). This can also apply to uniforms if they are against an employee’s religion such as wearing pants or something immodest. Again the allowance must not place an undue hardship on the employer.

  4. You automatically get weekends off if you’re religious. Some religions do not allow work on the Sabbath. An employee does not have to work on his or her Sabbath if it does not place “undue hardship” on the employer. Hardship can be financial or a decrease in the morale of other employees on the team.  For instance, if you work for a large employer and there are many employees who can cover your shift or work for you every Saturday or Sunday, your employer must allow it. If on the other hand, it’s a small operation or one where everyone takes turns working on the weekends and finding someone to repeatedly cover the shift would cause resentment among peers, or if the company would need to hire an additional person because you can’t work that time, the company may not be forced to give you the Sabbath off. Since “undue hardship” is a bit of a nebulous concept, it’s best to speak with an employment discrimination attorney about whether your situation should be honored or not.  

  5. If your religion makes you do it, your employer has to allow it. While the Civil Rights Act of 1964, Title VII protects employees of companies that employ larger than 15 people from religious discrimination, it is not forced to honor every religious stipulation an employee follows. The differentiator, as mentioned above, is whether the request places the business in undue hardship. If for instance, a 15-person company employed someone whose religious beliefs dictated two hours of meditation in the middle of their busiest time of day and accommodating this meant having to hire another employee, the employer would not be expected to do that.

Religious discrimination is not always a bullying situation or off-color jokes. Sometimes it’s the quiet assumptions employers make about withholding promotions or deciding someone’s not right for the company culture because of their religion.

If you think you’ve been a victim of religious discrimination, contact one of our employment attorneys at Wenzel Fenton Cabassa, P.A.. The initial consultation is free.

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