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
The Supreme Court has ruled that a Colorado bakery owner who refused to create a wedding cake for a same-sex couple based on his religious beliefs should not have been found to have violated the state's anti-discrimination law. The Court cited the First Amendment's free exercise of religion guarantee.
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Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 requires employers to reasonably accommodate applicants' and employees' sincerely held religious practices, unless doing so would impose an undue hardship on the operation of their business.
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.
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.
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.