Workplace discrimination based on the religion of employees is prohibited in the U.S. under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964. New Jersey and Pennsylvania similarly prohibit religious discrimination through state laws, including the New Jersey Law Against Discrimination and the Pennsylvania Human Relations Act. Private employers and local and state governments are prohibited from discriminating against applicants and employees on the basis of religion. At Swartz Swidler, our experienced anti-discrimination attorneys can assess what happened to you and explain your rights against discrimination based on your religious beliefs.
Who is protected against religious discrimination under Title VII?
Local, state, and federal government employers are covered by Title VII. This law also covers private employers with at least 15 employees. Employment agencies and labor organizations must similarly comply with Title VII’s anti-discrimination provisions, including the prohibition against religious discrimination. The NJLAD in New Jersey covers all employers, including those that have fewer than 15 employees.
What qualifies as a religion?
Both applicants and employees are protected against discrimination based on their religious beliefs and practices, including people who do not have religious beliefs. Employers are prohibited from discriminating against people with specific religions and those who are agnostic or atheistic. A worker’s religious beliefs do not have to be part of an organized religion. All religious beliefs are protected as long as they are sincerely held.
A belief is religious when it serves the purpose of religion for an individual. It must be meaningful and involve ideas about life, death, and purpose. Religious protection applies to sects and small groups as well as employees who have beliefs that diverge from those of a specific religion that they claim to follow.
Other types of sincerely held beliefs do not qualify, however. For example, economic, social, and political beliefs are not protected from religious discrimination even though you might deeply believe in them.
Employers’ duties for sincerely held beliefs
Employers are required to accommodate their employees’ sincerely held religious beliefs. Whether a belief might be considered to be sincerely held will involve an individualized assessment. The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission has listed the following indicators that might mean a belief is not sincerely held:
- The employee’s actions are inconsistent with the stated belief.
- The benefit the employee seeks is more likely for secular reasons than religious ones.
- The timing of the request is suspect.
- The employer has other reasons to believe that the request made by an employee is for secular, rather than religious, reasons.
Employers may not discriminate against applicants and employees, harass them, or make adverse job decisions based on their sincerely held religious beliefs. If an employee requests accommodations for his or her religious beliefs, the employer must provide reasonable accommodations. Employers are not allowed to refuse to hire applicants because the applicants do not share the employer’s religious beliefs.
What is harassment based on an employee’s religion?
Religious harassment is illegal when it is severe and pervasive enough to create a hostile work environment. Normally, a religious harassment charge will need to show a pattern of ongoing conduct instead of a single incident. The conduct must be severe enough that a similarly situated reasonable person would struggle to perform his or her job if subjected to it.
Reasonable religious accommodations
Employees can request accommodations for their sincerely held religious beliefs. When they do, their employers must provide them as long as they will not cause undue financial hardship for the employers. If an employee’s beliefs require him or her to wear certain items of clothing, his or her employer must allow the employee to do so as long as it will not create an undue financial hardship.
Examples of religious discrimination in the workplace
Some examples of religious discrimination in the workplace include the following:
- An employer considers an employee’s or applicant’s religious beliefs when deciding whether to fire or hire him or her.
- An employer considers its employees’ religious beliefs when deciding salaries, job assignments, and classifications.
- An employer considers its employees’ religious beliefs when making promotions, granting transfers, or laying off workers.
- An employer bases recruitment and testing on its applicants’ religious beliefs.
After religious discrimination has allegedly occurred, a court will have to determine the employer’s requirements under Title VII. If the employee claims that the employer refused to accommodate his or her religion, the court must evaluate whether or not the request was reasonable and whether it would cause the employer to suffer undue financial hardship.
How to file a claim of religious workplace discrimination
Employees who believe that their employers unlawfully discriminated against them because of their religious beliefs can file discrimination charges with the EEOC. The claims must be filed within 180 days or 300 days in states with longer statutes of limitations. Once a charge is filed, the EEOC will investigate whether discrimination occurred and notify the employer. Religious discrimination charges can be settled at any time.
After the investigation, the EEOC will determine whether or not your claim has merits. It can then choose to file a claim on your behalf in court. The EEOC can also decide against suing on your behalf and can send a right to sue letter. You will then have 90 days to file a civil lawsuit in court.
Talk to the employment discrimination attorneys at Swartz Swidler
If your employer has discriminated against you because of your sincerely held religious beliefs, you may be entitled to pursue a discrimination charge with the EEOC. At Swartz Swidler, our discrimination attorneys can evaluate your claim and explain whether it has legal merits. If we agree that a discrimination charge is warranted, we can help you to gather evidence to support your claim. Call us today to request a free and confidential consultation at (856) 685-7420 so that you can learn about your potential rights.