Religious freedom is considered to be a fundamental right that is protected by the First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution. The U.S. was formed by early settlers who were fleeing religious persecution. Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 makes it illegal for private employers, state governments, local governments, and educational institutions to discriminate against people based on their religious beliefs. States also have labor laws to protect workers from workplace discrimination based on religion. If you have faced discrimination because of your religion in New Jersey or Pennsylvania, the attorneys at Swartz Swidler can explain the remedies that might be available to you.
When do workers have claims for workplace discrimination based on religion?
To figure out whether you have a claim for religious discrimination at work, you will need to start by identifying the type of discrimination that has occurred. Typically, employment discrimination in the workplace includes an employer’s basing any of the following types of decisions on the religion of an employee:
- Hiring or firing decisions
- Compensation, employee classifications, or job assignments
- Promotions or transfers
- Recruitment and testing
Requirements of employers
After you have identified the type of religious discrimination that has occurred, you will then need to consider what your employer is required to do by Title VII. Title VII requires employers to provide reasonable accommodations for their employees’ religious practices unless doing so would cause undue financial hardship for the employer. When considering whether the employer acted reasonably, the court will examine reasonableness versus any hardship that would be caused to the employer by accommodating the religious practices of the employees.
The court will start by asking whether the employer acted reasonably. For example, one court found that an employer was unreasonable when it refused a Muslim employee’s request to wear a scarf during Ramadan. The court also found that the employer would not have faced undue hardship if it had allowed the employee to wear the scarf. Courts have also found it to be unreasonable to refuse to offer a place to pray or to allow employees to take time off from work for religious observances. By contrast, several courts have found that it is reasonable for employers to disallow the display of religious objects in the workplace.
Recognizing religious discrimination
There are two main categories of religious discrimination claims, including failures to accommodate the religious beliefs of an employee or treating an employee differently than other workers based on the employee’s religious beliefs.
Failure to accommodate religious beliefs
Employers are required to accommodate the religious beliefs of their employers when they will not be caused undue hardships. Accommodations might include schedule changes, including allowing people to not work on the Sabbath or take time off from work for religious holidays, and exceptions to normal grooming and dress requirements.
To prove that your employer failed to accommodate your religious beliefs and practices, you will need to show that you requested the accommodation and that the accommodation was reasonable. You will also want to gather evidence to counter any claim that your employer might make that accommodating you would have created an undue hardship.
Employers cannot base their job decisions on the religious beliefs of their employees, including the lack of belief. For example, an employer cannot refuse to hire atheists, only offer promotions to Christians, or segregate Muslims from other workers. Employers cannot show more favor to employees who adhere to a particular religion.
Proving discrimination when your employer treated you differently based on your religion will require you to present evidence. If your supervisor admitted that he or she bases work decisions on the biases that he or she holds about employees of a specific religion, proving the claim will be more straightforward. In most cases, it will be hard to find direct evidence. This might mean that you will need to use circumstantial evidence to prove your claim of religious discrimination.
What to do if you have been discriminated against at work based on religion
If you believe that you have been discriminated against based on your religion, you should start by following your employer’s internal complaint procedure. This gives your employer a chance to correct the problem. If your employer does not do anything about your complaint, you should consider filing a discrimination charge with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission. In general, a charge of religious discrimination should be filed within 180 days of when the discriminatory act occurred. After you file your discrimination charge with the EEOC, your employer will be notified. The EEOC will then begin its investigation of your charge to determine whether a claim should be filed against your employer. You and your employer will both have a chance to settle your charge at any time during the process.
If the EEOC finds that sufficient grounds exist for a religious discrimination claim, it will either file a claim against your employer in federal court or suggest mediation. You will only be allowed to file a religious discrimination lawsuit against your employer in court if the EEOC has issued a right to sue notice. If you receive this notice, your claim must be filed within 90 days.
Contact Swartz Swidler for help with your religious discrimination charge
If you think that you were the victim of religious discrimination at work, you may have grounds to file a discrimination charge with the EEOC. The agency will conduct an investigation and either give you leave to file a lawsuit or sue your employer on your behalf. Religious discrimination in the workplace can be difficult to prove. Having the help of a skilled employment discrimination attorney might increase the chance that you will succeed. Contact Swartz Swidler today by calling us at 856.685.7420 to learn about your rights and the potential remedies that might be available to you.