Although religious freedom is a cherished right in America, religious discrimination is an escalating problem. In the last decade, the number of religious discrimination complaints has doubled. The most common complaint is that the employer has failed to provide reasonable accommodations for an employee’s religious beliefs and practices.
Both Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and California’s Fair Employment and Housing Act protect employees and applicants from religious discrimination at every stage of employment. These laws also require employers to reasonably accommodate an employee’s religious belief or practice as long as the accommodation does not present an undue hardship.
If you suspect you were not hired, were fired or that your employer refused to accommodate your religious beliefs and practices, we encourage you call us to learn how a religious discrimination attorney can help. You may be entitled to compensation. We will evaluate your claims, explain the discrimination laws and your legal options, and propose a strategy to obtain the justice you deserve.
We handle all religious discrimination cases on a contingency basis. That means you pay nothing until we recover money for you. Contact Custis Law, P.C. now online or at (213) 863-4276 to schedule a free, confidential consultation.
Religious Discrimination in the Workplace
Religious discrimination generally falls into two categories, disparate treatment (or intentional) discrimination and disparate impact discrimination.
Intentional religious discrimination occurs when the employer makes an adverse employment decision, like termination or a failure to hire, because of an employee’s or applicant’s religion, religious beliefs or religious practices. The prohibition against discrimination includes discrimination based on the employee’s affiliation with a religion, the perception that an employee is a member of a religious group and an employee’s association with a member of a religious group. Common examples include:
- Failing to hire or terminating an employee to avoid accommodating the employee’s religious practices.
- Refusing to hire an applicant solely because the applicant doesn’t share the employer’s religious beliefs.
- Reassigning someone to a less public or visible position because the employer incorrectly thinks her hijab makes customers uncomfortable.
- Failing to hire an applicant who wore a hijab to an interview because the dress code of the employer, a high-end retailer, prohibits headwear.
- Refusing to accommodate the request of a Seventh-day Adventist farm worker to observe the Sabbath on Saturday and terminating her employment when she observed the Sabbath.
- Refusing to allow employees to engage in religious practices that do not cause an undue burden like daily prayer.
Disparate Impact Discrimination
California and federal law also prohibit employers from implementing a neutral policy or practice that has a negative impact on one religious group. For example, if an employer adopts a policy that no employees could wear anything on their heads while working, that policy would have a negative impact on those employees whose religion requires them to wear a hijab, yarmulke or turban.
Does My Employer Have to Accommodate My Religious Beliefs and Practices?
As a general rule, yes. California’s FEHA and Title VII require employers to reasonably accommodate an employee’s or applicant’s religious briefs or practices unless doing so creates an undue hardship. A “reasonable accommodation” could be a change in a workplace rule or policy that allows an employee to engage in religious practice. Common examples of accommodations include:
- Creating an exception to the company’s dress code for an employee’s religious practice.
- Changing a Catholic employee’s work schedule so that he can attend church services on Good Friday.
- Excusing an atheist from the religious invocation offered at the beginning of a company event.
- Providing a Muslim employee with breaks that will permit daily prayers at prescribed times.
An employer that refuses to provide a reasonable accommodation must show that accommodating the employee would cause an “undue hardship.” That is a difficult standard to meet in California. Undue hardship is defined as an action that requires “significant difficulty or expense.”
What You Can Do Now About Religious Discrimination
If you believe you may have a claim for religious discrimination, you can take a number of steps to protect yourself and preserve your legal rights.
Keep a journal of the discriminatory acts and harassment you’ve experienced because of your religion, including dates, places, times, names of the persons involved and names of witnesses. Keep this journal at home or in a safe place, and not at work.
Report it in Writing
Many employers have religious discrimination policies in their employee handbook. If your employer does, follow the procedure in the handbook for reporting religious discrimination and harassment. If your employer does not, make a written report to your supervisor or someone in human resources. This report does not need to be long or formal. An email will work fine.
Keep copies of emails and other documents that you have sent or received from your employer regarding your complaint. Keep copies of emails and other documents, too, that you have received that you suspect are discriminatory or harassing. If your employer has an employee handbook, obtain a copy. Also, keep copies of positive performance reviews and letters. Keep these records at home or in a safe place, and not at work.
No one wants to experience religious discrimination at work. We understand that. But employees who quit before reporting religious discrimination will have a more difficult time winning a lawsuit. If you’re experiencing a stressful workplace, talk to an experienced employment attorney about how to preserve your legal claims.
Take Care of Yourself
Seek professional counseling or treatment if you are experiencing emotional distress, anxiety, depression or other psychological symptoms because of religious discrimination or harassment.