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Laws Against Religious Discrimination

Religion is one of the personal characteristics which may not be used to discriminate, as per Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964. However, it is somewhat unique in that unlike race, national origin and gender, one’s religious belief is very often not visible or apparent unless discussed. Despite laws against religious discrimination, if someone presents as visibly religious, some employers may use it as an excuse to deliberately or unintentionally discriminate against them. If you suspect this has happened to you, it can be difficult to spot.

Granting Time Off

Perhaps the most common way that an employee might show themselves to be visibly and devoutly religious is by requesting accommodations with regard to time worked. A good example is a Jewish person requesting a different shift or a schedule which does not include working on Friday evenings, to leave that time free to attend Shabbat services. Another similar situation would involve a Muslim requesting a brief break and private place during a workday to pray, as their faith requires.

According to laws against religious discrimination, unless fulfilling such requests would create an undue hardship for the employer, they should be granted. The definition of ‘undue hardship’ is subjective, because what will be difficult to accommodate at a 20-person small business will be very easy to accommodate in a 500-person company. However, the general rule of thumb is to ask whether the accommodation would disrupt the ordinary course of business in a significant way. If the answer is yes, it is likely burdensome; if not, the accommodation can likely be granted with no trouble.

Religious Clothing & Grooming

One of the other most common reasons one can experience religious discrimination is due to visible religious symbols being worn, or specific styles of grooming required by one’s faith. Examples would be Muslim women wearing the hijab or niqab, or Orthodox Jewish men wearing prayer locks – but it is important to mark that it is not only the big ‘organized’ religions whose adherents have the right to wear articles of their faith.

As long as a religious belief is judged to be “sincerely held,” the law holds that articles of that faith may be worn under the same strictures that a Christian, Muslim, Jew or any other adherent would be required to uphold. This is also considered an accommodation, though in most jobs very little burden would fall upon the employer by allowing the wearing of such articles.

Title VII jurisprudence and the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) both explicitly state that even if an employee’s religion is never openly disrespected, it indeed qualifies as discrimination if adverse employment actions are made based solely on the employee’s appearance as a religious person. For example, an observant Sikh who works with customers may not be moved to a position where they do not work with customers solely because of negative comments on their appearance (or solely because the employer fears negative comments and thus a loss of business).

Consult An Employment Law Attorney

Laws against religious discrimination dictate that as long as it does not interfere with the operation of the employer’s business, being visibly religious is a right that is protected. If you believe this right has been denied to you on the job, contacting an employment discrimination attorney may help you decide how best to approach the problem.

Call Charleston, SC discrimination law firm, Hitchcock & Potts today.

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