In both New Jersey and Pennsylvania, religious discrimination in the workplace is illegal under both state and federal law. The prohibition against religious discrimination at work extends to all aspects of employment, including recruiting, interviewing, hiring, salaries, bonuses, opportunities for training, demotions, and terminations. Despite the legal prohibitions against workplace religious discrimination, many employers still engage in it or allow their employees or customers to discriminate against employees based on their religious beliefs or lack of religious beliefs.
Religious discrimination can take multiple forms. If you believe that you have been treated differently because of your religion or your lack of religious beliefs, you might be entitled to pursue damages through a religious discrimination claim. The discrimination attorneys at Swartz Swidler can review what happened and explain the rights that you might have.
What Is Religious Discrimination?
Under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, employers are prohibited from discriminating against employees and applicants based on their protected characteristics, including religion. The Religious Freedom Restoration Act also prohibits workplace religious discrimination.
Workplace religious discrimination occurs when employees are treated differently based on their religion, religious practices or beliefs, or their requests for religious accommodations. This type of discrimination also occurs when an employee or applicant receives different treatment because of his or her lack of beliefs or atheism. You do not have to be a member of an organized religion such as Judaism, Islam, Christianity, or others to be protected against religious discrimination. As long as your beliefs are sincerely held, you are protected against religious discrimination based on them. If you have been harassed, demoted, fired, or suffered other negative consequences at work because of your religious beliefs, practices, or your request for religious accommodations, you might be the victim of illegal religious discrimination.
Some people who are discriminated against at work because of their religion also are the victims of other types of unlawful employment discrimination. Some of the examples include race discrimination, national origin discrimination, and immigration status discrimination. Religious discrimination cases normally involve one of the following three scenarios:
- An employer bases its employment decisions on religious preferences.
- An employer, coworker, or client harasses an employee based on his or her religious preferences.
- An employer denies a request for reasonable accommodations for an employee’s religious practices.
In situations in which an employer bases employment decisions on religious preferences, an employer might decide to hire, promote, or fire someone based on his or her faith. For example, an employer might only hire people who practice Christianity while routinely rejecting those who practice Islam. An employer might also single out atheists for termination based on their lack of belief or firing Orthodox Jews for their observing Sabbath on Saturdays. This might also involve employers that fire employees when they take time off from work to observe religious holidays or only offering promotions to employees who agree to attend church at a supervisor’s preferred house of worship.
Harassment based on religion is another common form of religious discrimination. When a supervisor, coworker, or customer harasses an employee based on the employee’s religious beliefs or practices, employers must take immediate action to stop the harassment. Otherwise, the employer might be liable for religious harassment in the workplace. Examples of this type of religious discrimination include making fun of employees based on their religious beliefs, finding employees in violation of a company dress code for wearing religious clothing, making fun of Muslim or Jewish employees for observing halal or kosher eating practices and avoiding pork products, or repeatedly harassing an atheist to try to “save” him or her. Religious harassment is prohibited when it is pervasive enough to create a hostile work environment that makes it difficult for the victim to perform the tasks of his or her job.
The most common type of religious discrimination in the workplace is a failure to accommodate. Many employers deny religious accommodation requests by employees in violation of the law. For example, requiring employees to work on Sabbath even though other employees are willing and able to trade shifts with them is an example of failure to accommodate. Forcing employees to remove religious garb to follow the company’s dress code while allowing other employees to wear whatever they want is likewise an example of failure to accommodate their religious practices and beliefs. It can also include allowing only people of one faith to display religious icons in their offices while prohibiting members of other religions to do so.
How Is Religion Defined?
Religion is defined broadly under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964. Religions include traditional organized beliefs, including Judaism, Hinduism, Buddhism, Christianity, and Islam. It also includes other beliefs when they are sincerely held, even if they are new or uncommon. Agnosticism and atheism also qualify for protection against religious discrimination. However, beliefs that are merely political, social, or economic are not included under the prohibitions against religious discrimination in the workplace. Similarly, personal preferences are likewise not protected.
When Are Accommodations Required?
Religious accommodation requests must be granted as long as they do not create an undue hardship for an employer. Some examples of when religious accommodations might create undue hardships include those that cause staff shortages, threaten safety or health, or are prohibitively costly. Otherwise, an employer must accommodate an employee’s request for religious accommodations.
Talk to an Experienced Discrimination Lawyer
It is unfortunate that religious discrimination continues to be a problem in many workplaces throughout New Jersey and Pennsylvania. If you believe that you have been the victim of illegal religious discrimination at your job, you may have legal rights. An experienced employment discrimination attorney at Swartz Swidler can meet with you in confidence to learn about what occurred and advise you about the appropriate steps to take. To learn more about your potential claim and the rights you might have, call us today to schedule a free consultation at (856) 685-7420.