What Is Religious Discrimination and Accommodation?

Employers Are Obligated to Investigate Religious Discrimination Charges

Pankaj Shah/Getty Images

Want to understand religious discrimination and the employer's responsibility to accommodate the religious beliefs of employees in the workplace?

Religious discrimination is adverse work treatment of an employee based on a class or category that the employee belongs to - religious beliefs or practices - rather than on the employee's individual merit.

Religious discrimination is prohibited by Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of l964.

According to this Act, religious discrimination by the employer or prospective employer is forbidden in hiring, firing, and any other terms and conditions of employment.

Conditions of employment include decisions about promotions, job transfers, attire not in the dress code that is required by religious beliefs, and providing the time necessary for religious practice.

Employer Responsibilities to Avoid Religious Discrimination 

An employer cannot consider religious beliefs in any employment action involving hiring, firing, choice assignments, lateral moves, and so forth. Religious discrimination charges are risked if changes to working hours fail to accommodate religious practices.

Employers are required to enforce a religious discrimination-free workplace in which employees are able to practice their religious beliefs without harassment. Employers must permit employees to engage in religious expression unless the religious expression would impose an undue hardship on the employer.

Generally, an employer may not place more restrictions on religious expression than on other forms of expression that have a comparable effect on workplace efficiency.

Employers are required to provide a workplace in which religious harassment of employees is not allowed. This is reinforced by implementing an anti-harassment policy and a harassment complaint investigation policy.

It is recommended that employers provide  anti-harassment training with solid examples and testing on a regular basis for all employees. Employers must create the expectation and the supportive culture that provides a harassment-free workplace for employees. The employer must proactively reinforce and enforce the behavior that is expected in the workplace.

Additional Considerations During a Job Interview

During an interview with a potential employee, if you ask  any questions that cause him or her to discuss religious beliefs you may have committed religious discrimination. 

If you ask any questions that make your prospect admit the need for religious accommodation after hire, you may have discriminated against the prospective employee.

(It is lawful to tell the candidate the required working hours of the position and ask whether the candidate is able to work the required hours of the position.)

Accommodation for Religious Practices

The Act also requires employers to reasonably accommodate the religious practices of an employee or prospective employee.

Reasonable accommodation can include, for example, providing:

  • flexible paid holidays so employees can attend services,
  • flexible schedules so employees can attend religious-related events,
  • unpaid time or PTO for religious observances,
  • the opportunity for employees to trade scheduled shifts,
  • the right for employees to wear religion-required headgear regardless of the employer's work dress code,
  • the opportunity to offer mandatory prayers at proper times of the day,
  • job reassignments and lateral moves, and
  • an interview schedule that accommodates religious practices.

Religious Accommodation and Undue Hardship

Religious accommodation is not required if it causes the employer undue hardship. An employer can claim undue hardship if the accommodation interferes with legitimate business interests.

According to the EEOC:

"An employer does not have to accommodate an employee's religious beliefs or practices if doing so would cause undue hardship to the employer. An accommodation may cause undue hardship if it is costly, compromises workplace safety, decreases workplace efficiency, infringes on the rights of other employees, or requires other employees to do more than their share of potentially hazardous or burdensome work."

Retaliation and Religious Discrimination

Religious discrimination by employers is against the law. So is retaliating against an employee who identifies religious discrimination.

It is against the law to retaliate against an individual for opposing employment practices that discriminate based on religion or for filing a discrimination charge, testifying, or participating in any way in an investigation, proceeding, or litigation under Title VII.

Religious discrimination complaints are handled by the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC), which was created by the Civil Rights Act of 1964.