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
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