Before we dive into the laws surrounding religious discrimination, it's important to take a look at an example of religious discrimination.
An example of religious discrimination
Following the terrorist attacks on September 11, 2001, there was an undeniable rise in Islamophobia all across the United States. This resulted in the U.S. Department of Justice's Civil Rights Division having to focus on prosecuting cases of religious discrimination, namely against people who practice Islam.
One case in particular involved the Civil Rights Division and the New York Metropolitan Transit Authority. Under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, a lawsuit accused the MTA of discriminating against employees who identified as Muslim and Sikh.
The MTA did not allow employees with these religious beliefs to wear headscarves or turbans at work. The claim was that not only is this policy discriminatory, but headscarves and turbans are no different from ski masks or baseball caps.
The seriousness of religious discrimination
The case of the MTA and its discriminatory practices highlights the seriousness of religious discrimination. While this situation was regarding Muslim and Sikh individuals, racial discrimination does not solely pertain to one religious group in particular. Title VII protects individuals of all religious groups who face discrimination based on what they do or do not believe.
Religious discrimination in the context of employment
In the context of employment, it is illegal to discriminate against people based on their religious practices or observances. You cannot hire, fire, compensate, assign or classify your employees based on these matters.
Examples of religious harassment that are prohibited include targeting based on someone's religious affiliation, denying employment because of religious symbols that someone wears or judging someone based on stigmatized perceptions of their religion.
What is forbidden under Title VII?
Title VII safeguards individuals from retaliation for speaking out against religious discrimination, filing complaints or participating in investigations related to religious discrimination. Employers must go above and beyond to ensure that the workplace is free from slurs, offensive graphics, verbal remarks or physical behavior rooted in religion.
The workplace must be void of anything that creates a hostile or abusive environment for employees who are associated with a religious group as well. Harassment from supervisors, co-workers or anyone else whom the employer is responsible for can make said employer liable for religious harassment.
What is reasonable accommodation in the context of religion?
Accommodations in the context of religion refer to flexible schedules, mandatory meetings that do not conflict with religious holidays or celebrations, and permission to observe certain days of the year when they are regarded as holy by a particular religious group.
As long as your business would not have to overextend financially or inconvenience other parties in the process of accommodating someone based on religion, then it is likely reasonable. Use your discretion when situations arise.
The illegality of religious discrimination
Not only is religious discrimination illegal, but it also goes against one of the fundamental aspects of the United States as a country. The U.S. is made up of a diverse mix of ethnicities, backgrounds and religious beliefs. Even the Bill of Rights emphasizes religious liberty for all.
Everyone has the right to think freely, hold their own personal beliefs and express their religious perspectives as they deem fit. Because of this, discrimination as a direct result of religion is unfathomable. Employers must refrain from incorporating religious discrimination to any degree in the workplace.
For employees who believe they are facing religious discrimination at work, the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission is available and willing to help. You can either seek counseling or file a formal complaint with the EEOC. Don't be afraid to speak up if religious discrimination is something you face. You deserve to be respected regardless of your religion just like everyone else.
Reach out to FIC Human Resource Partners' Nuance Culture Consulting and Nuance Culture Consulting for help ensuring that your organization's policies are fostering a culture of inclusion and belonging.