Workplace religious discrimination can come in many forms. Essentially, it involves treating a job applicant or an employee less favorably because of their religion or religious affiliation. Or, it can involve unfavorable treatment because the person is married to or associated with someone of a particular religion. It can also involve unfavorable treatment because of religious practices, dress or grooming habits. It can involve harassment, segregation or refusal to accommodate reasonable religious requests.
According to the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 protects not only people of traditional religions, but also those who hold sincere religious, moral or ethical beliefs outside of a traditional religion. The law applies to virtually all employers with 15 employees or more.
The law prohibits discrimination in any aspect of your job, including hiring, pay, benefits, job assignments, training, promotions, layoffs, firings or any term or condition of employment. At any point in the process, it is illegal to discriminate against you for your religion or religious practices.
Can my boss keep me in the back?
Sometimes, employers have tried to justify their discriminatory actions based on fears about customer preferences. That is to say, they have required customer-facing workers to forego their religious garb or practices in order to “fit in” or keep customers comfortable. This is illegal. Nor can your employer forbid you to wear a head scarf, turban or other religious accouterments in order to promote a favored “look” — even among people who work face-to-face with clients.
Does my boss have to give me religious days off?
Generally, yes. You have the right to reasonable accommodation of your religious beliefs and practices. Reasonable, in this case, means that providing the accommodation would cause more than a minimal burden on your employer. If you observe a Sabbath day, for example, your employer generally can’t schedule you on the Sabbath unless it would cause undue hardship.
You are also entitled to pray during the workday, if you generally do so, even if doing so disrupts your work for a period of time. If you fast, reasonable accommodations must be made for that.
Accommodations are generally not required if your religion or religious practice will actually interfere with your ability to perform the job safely. For example, if shaving your beard is necessary to properly wear mandatory safety equipment, your employer can typically require it. You might have to make a strong argument for an accommodation.
Religious harassment is prohibited
Title VII also prohibits harassment based on religion, religious practices or non-religion. However, only “severe and pervasive” harassment is covered by the law. In other words, friendly teasing, an offhand comment or an isolated incident might not be considered serious or pervasive enough for the EEOC or the Pennsylvania Human Relations Commission (PHRC) to take action.
What is prohibited is harassment that is frequent and severe enough that it creates an offensive or hostile work environment, or harassment that results in an adverse employment action. An adverse employment action is any negative workplace decision such as firing or demotion.
The law forbids harassment not only by supervisors and coworkers but also by non-employees such as customers. If a customer harasses you based on religion, your employer has a duty to take reasonable steps to end the harassment.
Retaliation for complaints is prohibited, too
Finally, Title VII prohibits employers from taking any retaliatory action against workers who make good faith complaints internally or to the EEOC or PHRC. Employees who participate in investigations are also protected from retaliation.