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Spotting Religious Discrimination in the Workplace

Some forms of discrimination are easy to identify and combat, such as street harassment or verbal attacks. Other forms, like religious discrimination in the workplace, can be much more insidious and difficult to spot. This can lead to employees feeling gaslit and confused about which types of conduct are acceptable and which are not. Here is a guide to identifying religious discrimination in the workplace.

In The Hiring Process

Perhaps the most common example of religious discrimination in the hiring process is refusing to hire someone based on their faith. Many are unaware, however, that Title VII expressly protects atheists as well—anyone with “sincerely held religious, ethical or moral beliefs” is covered (though the onus is on the job applicant to show that their beliefs are indeed sincere). This is important to remember because Title VII does not only apply to major religions. An employer may not refuse to hire an individual simply because they identify as part of an unusual religion.

One other common situation is when the applicant’s husband or wife is the one with strong religious views and the applicant does not get a job or promotion because management views their spouse negatively. For example, if a Christian employee has a Muslim wife who refuses to participate in expected social rituals or who insists on donning a full burqa in an environment where doing so may be considered unusual, an employer might not hire or promote the Christian employee because their spouse’s beliefs are “strange” or “burdensome” to the employer. This is unacceptable. Questions about one’s spouse or children and their religious preferences are often a red flag, especially at interviews.

Reasonable Accommodations

The other broad area in which religious discrimination can be hard to spot is when dealing with the issue of reasonable accommodations. Many employers, depending on the situation, are able to frame a reasonable request for accommodations as somehow unacceptable, though employees are entitled to accommodations which will not pose an undue burden on their employer.

The crux of the matter is what exactly will impose a burden on the specific employer. For example, allowing a Jewish employee to leave work early one day per week for Shabbat services might be easy for a large company, but for a small company with less than five employees, it might be impossible. In the situation with the smaller company, declining the request to leave early would not be discriminatory.

Even if the accommodation is granted, however, this can lead to other discriminatory situations. It is not uncommon, for example, for an accommodation to be granted for an employee to wear religious headgear or facial hair—such as a Muslim hijab or the Sikh’s uncut beard—and then for that employee to be transferred or demoted to a position where they do not have to engage with customers. This is equally discriminatory, because an employee’s appearance or religious beliefs have nothing to do with whether or not the functions of their job can adequately be performed.

Seek Experienced Assistance With Your Case

Unless it can be shown that one’s religious faith is an integral asset or detriment in terms of a specific job, most instances of segregation or unequal treatment based on one’s faith will be held to be discriminatory. If you believe you have been a victim of such policies, it is a good idea to consult an employment discrimination lawyer.

Attorney A. Christopher Potts and his Charleston employment law firm have been practicing in this field for many years and are happy to help you determine your path forward.

Contact us today to set up a consultation.


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