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 2012 the US Supreme Court ruled in Hosanna-Tabor Evangelical Lutheran Church and School v. EEOC,132 S. Ct. 694 (2012), that the ministerial exception under Title VII and the First Amendment prohibiting employment-related suits against religious organizations barred a discrimination claim by a teacher who performed religious functions at a parochial school. In addition, individuals have been prohibited from bringing employment related suits against religious organizations in the state courts as well.
Author: Beth P. Zoller, JD, Legal Editor
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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Recent case law developments highlight the importance of preventing discrimination against workers who are Muslim or of Middle Eastern background.
In the midst of the flu pandemic, many health care employers are requiring employees to receive flu vaccinations. However, a number of workers have protested, claiming that they are entitled to an accommodation based on disability, religion or pregnancy. What are an employer's obligations to accommodate workers and what groups of workers are they required to accommodate? The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) has provided some useful guidance regarding these issues.
On January 28, 2013, the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) released fiscal year 2012 statistics on employment discrimination charges filed with the agency. Retaliation (37,836) was the most frequently filed claim, followed by race discrimination (33,512) and sex discrimination (30,356), which includes sexual harassment and pregnancy discrimination. Retaliation charges remain a top concern for employers and have since 2010, accounting for 38.1% of all charges in 2012.
While it is generally lawful for an employer to develop and implement dress codes and uniform policies, the employer must be mindful of employees' right to practice their religion and wear clothing that comports with their religious beliefs and practices, or else it may face a religious discrimination claim. In Equal Employment Opportunity Commission v. Fries Restaurant Management, LLC d/b/a Burger King, Fries Restaurant Management (Fries) agreed to pay $25,000 to a teen employee who was asked to leave work because she wore a skirt instead of the required uniform of black pants.
In the midst of the flu pandemic sweeping the nation, a federal court in Ohio has provided some food for thought to employers that require their employees to get a flu shot. In Chenzira v. Cincinnati Children's Hospital Medical Center, 2012 U.S. Dist. Lexis 182139 (S.D. Ohio, 2012), an employee who was terminated for refusing to get a flu shot because the vaccine contained chicken egg product, which violated her religious and philosophical beliefs as a vegan, may proceed with her religious discrimination claim.
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.