Religious Discrimination in the Workplace: What You Need to Know

Jul 18 2019

In the last twenty years, reports of religious discrimination have more than doubled. While at least one survey finds the number of people experiencing bias because of their religious beliefs is lower than any other type of discrimination, religious discrimination in the workplace exists and is illegal.

Connecticut and federal law protect people who belong to traditional, organized religions, such as Buddhism, Christianity, Hinduism, Islam, and Judaism. It also protects those who have sincerely held religious, ethical or moral beliefs.

What Constitutes Religious Discrimination?

The law forbids discrimination because of religious beliefs in any aspect of employment, whether it be hiring, firing, pay, assignments, promotions, layoffs or any other term or condition of your employment.

Religious discrimination comes in one of three ways: Harassment, Disparate Treatment or Failure to Accommodate.

Harassment

Offensive remarks or conduct about your religious beliefs might be discrimination. The frequency and egregiousness of the remarks or conduct is critically important. The law rarely protects isolated incidents, but if the offensive remarks or conduct about your religious beliefs are frequent or severe, it may create a hostile work environment. If you think you are being harassed because of your religious beliefs seek professional counsel quickly.

Disparate Treatment

It is illegal if you are treated differently than your co-workers because of your religious beliefs. That is disparate treatment.

Religious discrimination can be very subtle. Consider you and another equally qualified co-worker are up for a promotion at work. You are a practicing catholic who wears a cross necklace and has other religious paraphernalia around your workstation. You nailed the interview, but your co-worker gets the job. The religious symbols have nothing to do with your ability to do the job, but personal biases creep into the mind of the decision maker. As a result, you are treated differently than your co-worker and miss out on the promotion. That might be religious discrimination.

Disparate treatment based on religious bias is rarely blatant. Like other types of discrimination, the worker must prove she received different treatment because of religious preferences.

Failure to Accommodate

The law requires an employer to reasonably accommodate an employees’ religious beliefs or practices, unless doing so would cause undue hardship to the employer’s business. Accommodations may include shift substitutions or swaps, job reassignment, modifications to physical workspace or dress and grooming policies.

It is illegal for your employer to fail to reasonably accommodate for your religious beliefs. For instance, you may require shift modifications during Ramadan because you are fasting. Assume you informed your employer why you must change your shift and the change does not cause the employer undue hardship. If the employer objects to your schedule change or acts against you because of your request, that might be religious discrimination.

As with all forms of discrimination, the facts matter. Be prepared to talk with an employment lawyer about all facts surrounding your employment dispute. The more facts and details you provide, the better a professional can assess your claims and tell you your rights.

Noteworthy

An employer cannot force you to participate or not participate in a religious activity as a condition of employment.

Are you associated with someone with strong religious beliefs? Religious discrimination can involve treating an employee differently because that person is married to or associated with an individual of a particular religion.

Contact Us

At Garrison, Levin-Epstein, Fitzgerald & Pirrotti, P.C., we advocate for employee rights. If you feel you have been discriminated against because of your religion, we are here to help. Contact us to learn more.

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