Overview: Title VII and various state laws provide individuals with protection from religious discrimination in the workplace. Therefore, an employer is prohibited from treating an applicant or employee unfavorably based on his or her religious beliefs. Generally, employers only need to accommodate the needs of individuals who have sincerely held religious beliefs. An employee cannot be forced to participate or not participate in a religious activity as a condition of employment.
Further, employers should understand that there are exceptions when it comes to religious discrimination. It is generally permissible for employers to give employment preference to members of their own religion. In addition, clergy members performing religious functions generally cannot bring claims under the federal employment discrimination laws such as Title VII, the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), the Age Discrimination in Employment Act (ADEA), and the Equal Pay Act (EPA).
Trends: A recent survey by the Pew Research Center identifies a significant rise religious intolerance, bias and hate crimes against religious individuals. Therefore, there is a greater need to protect religious individuals in the workplace. Thus, employers need to focus on policies and practices that will prohibit discrimination based on religion. Further, employers should be aware that in 2014, the EEOC issued updated guidance for employers regarding providing employees with religious accommodations when it comes to dress codes, grooming and appearance. The guidance covers clothing as well as hairstyles and facial hair. Additionally, the EEOC has identified targeting recruiting and hiring practices that discriminate against ethnic and religious groups as a priority in its Strategic Enforcement Plan.
Author: Beth P. Zoller, JD, Legal Editor
In EEOC v. Abercrombie & Fitch Stores, Inc., the US Supreme Court held that an applicant seeking to establish a religious discrimination claim based on a failure to accommodate is not required to show that the potential employer had knowledge of the individual's need for an accommodation.
In EEOC v. Abercrombie & Fitch, the Supreme Court has ruled that a Muslim woman can move forward with her religious discrimination lawsuit against Abercrombie & Fitch under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act. The woman, who wears a hijab, claimed she was denied a job because of the company's appearance policy.
Indiana Governor Mike Pence has signed a controversial law that prevents the government from infringing on a business's or individual's religious liberty in the Hoosier State. The Indiana Religious Freedom Restoration Act (RFRA) allows any for-profit business to assert a free exercise of religion claim. But opponents claim this law sanctions discrimination against the LGBT community.
Employers covered by Title VII and seeking to advise employees of their right to seek accommodations based on religion should consider including this model policy statement in their handbook.
The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) has released two new publications instructing employers with regard to employee religious garb and grooming in the workplace: a lengthy Question and Answer Guide as well as a Fact Sheet on religious discrimination and accommodation. The EEOC notes that this guidance comes after a marked increase in the number of religious discrimination lawsuits.
The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) has reached a settlement in two religious discrimination lawsuits over retailer Abercrombie & Fitch's "Look Policy," a dress code that prohibited employees from wearing hijabs or religious headscarves. As part of the settlement, Abercrombie will pay $71,000 plus attorney fees and revise its dress code policy.
A recent decision from a federal district court in California provides important lessons for employers when it comes to religious accommodations. Essentially, it requires the employer to present concrete evidence of undue hardship should it refuse to grant a request for a religious accommodation.
A recent 7th Circuit case serves as a reminder to employers considering requests for leave accommodations based on religion that they should proceed cautiously and engage in the interactive process, evaluating each request on a case-by-case basis and asking for more information where needed. Employers should also be aware that religious beliefs and practices are broadly defined under Title VII (and similar state and local law) and, as a result, a range of activities and circumstances may fall under its purview.
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HR guidance on how to create and implement policies and practices that prohibit discrimination based on religion and make sure that religious employees and applicants are treated fairly.