Overview: Harassment against an individual based on his or her religion is strictly prohibited by Title VII as well as various state and local laws. Religious harassment may take the form of hostile work environment harassment or quid pro quo harassment.
Quid pro quo religious harassment occurs when a harasser demands that an individual comply with the harasser's religious demands and engage in conversion or religious worship or otherwise suffer an adverse employment action. Religious harassment can also arise in the context of a hostile work environment such as teasing, jokes and other offensive, threatening or humiliating conduct based on an employee's religion.
In order to effectively prevent religious harassment, employers should institute a policy that religious harassment will not be tolerated under any circumstances. Employers should provide employees with a multichannel complaint system which will allow them to bring a claim of religious harassment. Further, employers should provide employee training and development on religious harassment to all employees and supervisors and make sure that they respond to harassment complaints in a timely and effective manner.
Trends: Employers should recognize that complaints of religious harassment are increasing and the EEOC has filed a number of lawsuits on behalf of Muslim and Arab workers alleging that interrupted prayer breaks, discrimination based on employee attire and requested employee name changes constitute religious harassment. Further, employers should be aware that states such as California law have recently passed measures to directly address religious harassment in the workplace and ensure a more tolerant and diverse workforce.
In Vance v. Ball State University, 570 U.S. (2013), the Supreme Court issued a critical decision which makes it more difficult for employees to prove that an employer is vicariously liable for a supervisor’s discriminatory or harassing conduct. Specifically, the Court held that a supervisor must be someone with the direct power and authority to take tangible employment actions against an employee. This issue is of primary importance when determining whether an employer is vicariously liable for a supervisor's actions in cases of harassment. Under the current law, if the harasser is a supervisor, the employer is automatically vicariously liable for the supervisor's actions. If the harasser is not a supervisor, the plaintiff must prove that the employer was negligent and that the employer knew or should have known of the harassment in order to be liable. This is a much higher burden to meet.
Author: Beth P. Zoller, JD, Legal Editor
Updated policy to reflect the expansion of FEHA to prohibit retaliation or discrimination against a person for requesting a disability or religious accommodation, effective January 1, 2016.
This briefing for supervisors examines the law and best practices for supervisors when it comes to managing religious issues in the workplace such as avoiding religious discrimination, harassment and retaliation, reasonable accommodation of religious beliefs and practices and types of religious accommodations.
An employer may use this policy to inform employees on how to request a religious accommodation. Examples of accommodations may include job restructuring, job reassignment, modification of work practices, and allowing time off, or a combination of the above.
This section of the XpertHR best practice manual considers the key issues associated with religion in the workplace and identifies the steps that employers can take to address these issues fairly, while supporting the needs of the business.
This How To details the steps a prudent employer should take to prevent religious discrimination.
This How To details the steps a prudent employer should take to handle a complaint of religious discrimination.