Many people know that it is illegal to discriminate against someone else based on their religion at work. However, they might not know whether it is illegal to discriminate against someone in the workplace based on their absence of religious belief. For people who are atheists or agnostics, it might not be clear whether the prohibition against workplace religious discrimination also protects them.
Many people are strongly opinionated about religion, and some believe that everyone around them believes the same way that they do. When they encounter others with different religious beliefs, some people treat them poorly simply based on their differences in belief. This is also true of those who do not follow any particular religion or who don’t believe in the existence of a higher power. If you are an atheist, agnostic, or simply don’t align yourself with any particular religion or spiritual belief, here is what you need to know about how the prohibition against religious discrimination in the workplace protects you from the attorneys at Swartz Swidler.
Workplace Discrimination Based on an Absence of Belief
While an atheist or agnostics might not feel that they are religious or that they adhere to a particular lifestyle associated with atheism or agnosticism, any type of unfavorable treatment based on their absence of religious belief in the workplace might also be considered a type of religious discrimination. The protection against workplace religious discrimination includes both those who subscribe to spiritual beliefs or religious denominations as well as those who do not hold religious or spiritual beliefs. The law recognizes your right to not have someone else impose their beliefs on you.
An employer can’t treat you differently because you do not subscribe to a particular religion or don’t hold any religious beliefs. The law includes atheism together with religious beliefs so that everyone can be equally protected in the workplace. your employer can’t favor employees who hold specific types of religious beliefs over those who don’t.
Under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, religion includes both organized, traditional religions as well as uncommon, new, beliefs that might only be subscribed to by a small percentage of people as long as those beliefs are sincerely held. Just like anyone else, atheists enjoy protection for their lack of belief in the workplace and can’t be discriminated against based on that.
Employers can’t require employees to participate in religious ceremonies or prayer. They also can’t treat employees who are atheists any differently than other employees in terms of training opportunities, pay, promotions, and other terms and conditions of employment. Employers also can’t require employees to attend meetings that are opened with prayers or other religious displays.
For example, in Young v. Southwestern Savings and Loan Assoc., 509 F.2d 140 (1975), an employee was required to attend monthly meetings that were opened by prayers given by a Baptist preacher. After she was told her attendance was mandatory, she complained about the prayers because she was an atheist. Her employer told her she could attend and just not listen. She was ultimately forced to resign and sued for religious discrimination. The U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit found that her claim of constructive discharge based on religious discrimination could proceed even though she was an atheist and lacked a religious belief.
How to Prove a Claim of Religious Discrimination as an Atheist
As an atheist or agnostic, proving a religious discrimination claim will require you to prove the same things as others who are discriminated against based on their beliefs. You will have the burden of proving the particular actions your employer took were based on your absence of belief instead of a different factor. An experienced lawyer from Swartz Swidler can help you understand what you will need to prove and the types of evidence you should gather to support your claim.
If you think you might have been treated unfavorably because of your status as an atheist or agnostic, consider the following things to determine whether you might have been the victim of religious discrimination at work:
- Whether you have expressed your opinion about religion in the workplace
- Whether you have talked about the fact that you don’t have a belief
- Whether you have discussed your absence of belief on social media
- Whether your supervisor or coworkers have questioned you about your religious beliefs
- Whether the treatment you have received at work has changed after others learned that you are an atheist or agnostic
- Whether your employer holds events or meetings that have religious connotations
- Whether your employer offers more benefits and opportunities to members of a particular religion over others
Talk to an Attorney at Swartz Swidler
The prohibition against workplace discrimination based on the religion of an applicant or employee extends beyond simply protecting those who subscribe to particular traditional religions. It also protects applicants and employees who do not hold religious or spiritual beliefs against workplace discrimination based on their absence of belief. If you think you have been discriminated against in the workplace based on your status as an atheist, agnostic, or an uncommon type of spiritual belief, you should talk to our attorneys. Call us today to request a free case evaluation and learn more about the legal remedies that might be available at (856) 685-7420.