It is against the law for your employer to treat you differently or to harass you because of your religious, moral and ethical beliefs. Your employer must respect your sincere and meaningful religious beliefs and must make a reasonable effort to accommodate your religious practices unless they cause an undue hardship.
Prohibited Discriminatory Practices
Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964
(Title VII) prohibits your employer from discriminating against you on the basis of religion in the any aspect of employment, including:
- Hiring and firing
- Compensation, assignment or classification of employees
- Transfer, promotion, layoff or recall
- Job advertisements
- Recruitment, testing and job interviews
- Use of the employer's facilities
- Fringe benefit, retirement and disability plans
- Other terms and conditions of employment
Prohibited discriminatory practices under Title VII also include:
- Retaliation against you for filing a charge of religious discrimination, participating in an investigation, or opposing a discriminatory practice
- Making employment decisions that are based on stereotypes or assumptions about your abilities, traits or performance because of your religious beliefs
- Forcing you to participate or not participate in a religious activity as a condition of employment
- Denying you employment solely because of your marriage to or association with a person of a particular religion
What is Religion?
Under Title VII, religion includes all aspects of religious observance and practice, as well as belief. So in order to be protected, your religious beliefs must be sincere and meaningful. This means that your beliefs must at least parallel those beliefs held by people who believe in God. While social views and political values are not protected under Title VII, a sincere belief in atheism or nonbelief in God is protected.
Title VII also requires your employer to make reasonable efforts to accommodate your religious practices unless those practices impose an undue hardship on your employer. Reasonable accommodation means that the employer should be able to make small adjustments in your work schedule, working conditions or work requirements that will allow you to continue working and still practice your religion. Examples of reasonable accommodation include:
- Allowing flexible work schedules and shifts
- Providing floating or optional holidays
- Permitting voluntary shift changes or work assignment substitutions
- Modifying workplace rules and regulations such as allowing employees to wear religious headdresses
If you need accommodation for a religious reason, you should give your employer sufficient advance notice so that some reasonable adjustment to your employment can be made. However, the employer does not have to accommodate your religious beliefs, if it can show an undue hardship.
Examples of undue hardship include:
- Your employer would have to force other employees, over their refusal, to switch to another work schedule to accommodate your religious practices
- Your employer would have to violate the terms of a collective bargaining agreement in order to accommodate your religious practices
- Your employer would have to pay replacement workers at a higher or premium rate to accommodate your religious practices
Bona Fide Occupational Requirement
Title VII does allow your employer to discriminate on the basis of religion only when religion is a bona fide occupational requirement. This occurs most often where the employer is a religious organization. For example, a church may require that all of its ministers belong to the same denomination of the church.
Remedies for Violations
If your employer discriminates against you on the basis of your religion, you may be entitled to relief in the form of back pay, hiring, promotion, reinstatement, front pay, reasonable accommodation, or other forms of relief. Title VII also allows you to recover your attorney's fees.
If you believe that you've been discriminated against on the basis of religion in your employment, an employment discrimination attorney can help you review your options.
Questions for Your Attorney
- Can my employer transfer me to a different position because of my religious practices?
- Does my employer have to provide flex-time so that I can attend religious services?
- Can my employer require me to be Catholic in order to teach at a Catholic school?