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. (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
Recent case law developments highlight the importance of preventing discrimination against workers who are Muslim or of Middle Eastern background.
XpertHR's Transportation Resource Center for HR: Discrimination and Harassment helps transportation industry employers handle their most vexing employment issues by bringing relevant resources together in one place for easy access.
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.
Recent federal cases demonstrate the importance of engaging in the interactive process when an employee requests a religious accommodation. Title VII and similar state and local laws not only prohibit religious discrimination in the workplace, but also require that employers make reasonable accommodations for an employee's sincerely held religious beliefs and practices if doing so would not create an undue hardship.
In Hosanna-Tabor Evangelical Lutheran Church and School v. EEOC, 132 S. Ct. 694 (2012), the US Supreme Court considered whether the ministerial exception prohibiting employment-related suits against religious organizations barred a discrimination claim by a teacher who performed religious functions at a parochial school.
Recent federal cases suggest that an employer may not be liable for religious discrimination if the employer offers an accommodation that is reasonable and does not cause the employer an undue hardship. However, employers should carefully consider all relevant and reasonable accommodations.
Staying abreast of emerging employment trends - including criminal background checks, workplace bullying, religious and pregnancy discrimination, retaliation and social media - is critical for employers that wish to reduce their exposure risks.
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.
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