Workers in New Jersey and Pennsylvania have the right to work in environments that are free from religious discrimination. Employers must provide reasonable accommodations to workers for their religious beliefs when the requested accommodations do not place an undue hardship on the business’s operations. However, workers might wonder what they have to do to prove their religious beliefs to their employers to get the accommodations that they want. At Swartz Swidler, we can help people to understand their rights to secure accommodations for their religious practices at work.
Right to practice your religion
Many people receive time off from work for Christmas since Christianity is a major religion in the U.S. However, workers might wonder whether they should receive time off from work for holidays that are associated with their religions when they practice something other than Christianity.
Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 prohibits discrimination at work based on religion. Religious discrimination occurs when a worker or applicant is treated less favorably than other workers because of the worker’s religion. The prohibition against religious discrimination applies to workers of all religions, including Jewish, Muslim, Buddhist, and Hindu workers. It also applies to workers with less mainstream religious beliefs such as Wiccans. Believers are protected from segregation based on their religious beliefs, harassment, and other discriminatory actions.
Establishing religious beliefs in the workplace
Workers might wonder what they must do to establish that their religious beliefs require certain accommodations. For example, they might wonder whether an employer can require that their religious leaders write letters to confirm what they believe. This depends on what the particular belief of the employee is.
For example, if a Catholic worker requests an accommodation to allow him or her to pick up ashes to use on Ash Wednesday, the employer might ask for the worker to bring a letter from his or her priest since Catholicism is a major religion. Employees are not required to give letters to their employers when they are not involved in an organized group, however. For example, someone who adheres to Wicca may not have an organized group and would not be required to present a letter to an employer. Despite this, the person who practices Wicca still enjoys the same protection against religious discrimination that a Catholic worker enjoys. Employees are not required to meet with a leader or church to be protected under the law. They must instead have sincere beliefs and talk with their employers about how the employer can reasonably accommodate their beliefs.
As defined under Title VII, religion includes religious beliefs, practices, and observances. Religious practices include the ethical or moral beliefs that a person has about wrong and right that are sincerely held. Religious beliefs do not need to be accepted by others or consistent. However, they must be sincerely held.
It does not matter whether a worker’s belief is required or approved by an established religious organization. This means that an employer can’t challenge the religious basis of a worker’s belief. However, an employer can inquire to determine whether the professed belief is sincere.
When an employee first asks for an accommodation for a reason other than religion and then later claims that he or she needs the accommodation because of his or her religious beliefs, an employer may have reason to doubt the sincerity of his or her beliefs. In that type of situation, the employer might wonder whether the worker’s religion is truly behind the request or if the worker is trying to avoid a work requirement.
According to the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, there are specific facts that might create doubt about the sincerity of a worker’s beliefs. These factors include the following:
- Whether the worker has behaved in a way that is not consistent with his or her professed belief
- Whether there is a reason to question the timing of the request
- Whether the worker is asking for an accommodation that would likely be requested for nonreligious purposes
- Whether the circumstances indicate that the worker is asking for the accommodation for nonreligious reasons
If you believe that your employer has engaged in illegal discrimination based on your religion, you should talk to the employment law and discrimination lawyers at Swartz Swidler. We can review the evidence in your case and offer an honest assessment of your claim. Contact us today to schedule a consultation by calling us at 856.685.7420 or by filling out our online contact form.