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What Does Discrimination Based on Religion Mean?

As previously discussed, even if you are an at-will employee, you cannot be fired for certain reasons including religion. Even if you weren’t fired, you cannot be discriminated against in other ways by your employer for your religion.

What is discrimination?

  • Discrimination means treating an employee unfavorably in hiring, firing, pay, job assignments, promotions, layoff, training, fringe benefits, or any other term or condition of employment.

Is every kind of discrimination illegal?

  • It may be surprising, but not all discrimination is illegal. For example, it is not illegal to discriminate against hiring someone because they do not have the required educational credentials or years of experience in the field. It is also not illegal to layoff someone based strictly on lowest seniority or job performance.
  • However, it is illegal to discriminate against someone based on that person’s religion.
  • Beware that some employers will give a legal reason for discrimination to hide the true illegal one. This is known as a “pretext.”

Who does discrimination based on religion include?

  • Traditional religions. These include, but are not limited to Judaism, Christianity, Islam, Hinduism, Buddhism, Jainism, Sikhism, Baha’ism, Native American religions, and Chinese religions such as Confucianism and Taoism.
  • Religious denominations or sects. This may include discrimination against someone of the same religion, but of a different denomination, sect, or school. Some examples are LDS (Mormons), Seventh-Day Adventists, Roman Catholics, Unitarians, Jehovah’s Witnesses, Pentecostals, Orthodox Jews, Hasidic Jews, or anyone who worships, practices, dresses, or observes different holidays.
  • Atheists, agnostics, and non-religious. Discrimination is also prohibited against anyone who has sincerely held religious, ethical, or moral beliefs, regardless of whether that person belongs to or identifies with any particular faith tradition or community.
  • Discrimination is also prohibited based on the religion of an employee’s spouse, partner, or other close personal associate.

Are there other illegal employment practices prohibited by discrimination based on religion?

  • Harassment. Harassment is illegal when it is so frequent or severe that it creates a hostile or offensive work environment or when it results in an adverse employment decision (such as the employee being fired or demoted).
    • Examples of harassment. Religious slurs, or offensive or derogatory remarks about:
      • a person’s religious practices, such as what they do or do not eat, or how they keep their hair or beard;
      • the person’s dress, such as wearing a head covering;
      • time off taken to observe a religious holiday or day of worship, such as a Friday or Saturday; or
      • the church, synagogue, mosque, temple, or other place of worship attended by the person.
    • Who is the harasser? The harasser can be the employee’s supervisor, a supervisor in another area, a co-worker, or someone who is not an employee of the employer, such as a contractor, client, or customer.
  • Employment Policies or Practices. An employment policy or practice that applies to everyone, regardless of religion can be illegal if it has a negative impact on the employment of people of a particular religion and is not job-related and necessary to the operation of the business.
    • "No-beard" or “dress code” employment policy. If the policy applies to all workers without regard to religion, it may still be unlawful. If the policy is not related to the job and in effect disproportionately harms employment opportunities based on religion the policy is unlawful.
    • Religious segregation. An employer may not segregate an employee, such as placing the employee out of sight of customers, based on the religious garb or grooming practices associated with a person’s religion.
    • Compulsory religious observances. An employee cannot be required to attend or not to attend any religious observance by the employer as a condition of employment.
    • Reasonable accommodation. An employer has the obligation to reasonably accommodate an employee's religious beliefs or practices unless it would be a substantially undue hardship on the conduct of the employer's business. The need for an accommodation should be requested in writing.

Under the new 2023 U.S. Supreme Court decision in Groff v. DeJoy, the burden for an employer to prove “undue hardship” is substantial in the overall context of an employer’s business, taking into account all relevant factors in the case at hand, including the particular accommodation at issue and its practical impact in light of the nature, size and operating cost of the employer.

If your request for a reasonable accommodation is refused, or if you are punished for requesting it, you should contact an employment law attorney immediately for guidance.

  • Retaliation. It is illegal to treat someone unfavorably or subject that person to any adverse employment action, such as demotion or termination, because that person requested a reasonable workplace accommodation, complained about one of the above forms of discrimination, or if that person participated in an investigation of discrimination or testified against the employer for discriminating against themselves or others.

Because you are legally protected from retaliation, you should not be afraid to request a reasonable workplace accommodation, or complain or truthfully report workplace discrimination. If you believe that one of the above applies to you, or if you have any concerns about this topic, you should seek legal guidance.

Contact Us for Legal Assistance

When it comes to looking for legal help with any type of illegal employment discrimination, Weiler Law PLLC is here to help. Our team of attorneys understands the complexities involved in these cases and is dedicated to providing the best possible representation. We can work closely with you throughout the process to ensure that your rights are protected.

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