Religious Discrimination at Work: Protecting Yourself

Under both federal and state law, it is unlawful to discriminate or take adverse action against a worker or employee on the basis of his/her religious beliefs or practices. This includes aspects in a person’s terms or conditions of employment such as interview, hiring, pay, title, hours, vacation, among others.

When an employee’s religious belief or practice conflicts with the performance of his responsibilities at work, employers are required by law to make reasonable accommodations, provided it would not cause undue hardship on the employer. In addition, it is inappropriate and illegal for an employer to ask you details about your religious beliefs, or information such as availability for future religious holidays, or to require a dress code that violates your belief or practice.

Further, an employer may not require an employee to engage in any behavior or observe any religious practice that would conflict with the employee’s own religious beliefs. Similarly, an employee may not be allowed to share or impart his religious beliefs in the workplace as it might cause undue hardship on other employees.

Nationality and Religious Preference

Occasionally, religious discrimination is compounded by issues related to an employee’s race or national origin as some cultures tend to have their distinct religions. For instance, discrimination may arise when an employee is treated differently because of his religious attire. However, such act may also lead to other types of discrimination especially when religious attire is strongly associated with a specific country or region. In this case, religious discrimination may also lead to discrimination based on national origin or race.

Protection from Religious Discrimination

Both the Civil Rights Act of 1964 (Title VII) and California’s Fair Employment and Housing Act (FEHA) make it unlawful to discriminate against an employee based on his religious belief or practice.

Under Title VII, religion refers to one’s moral or ethical beliefs regarding right or wrong, which are held with “the strength of traditional religious view”. Similarly, FEHA refers to both traditionally recognized religions including its beliefs, observances, and practices which an employee holds and which occupies a place of importance in his/her life like that of recognized religious creed.

These definitions are more focused on what an employee believes as part of his religious conviction rather on what others in his/her religion believes. Title VII and Fair Employment and Housing Act also provides the employees with information on the course of action to take if he/she is being discriminated against based on his/her religion.

Filing a Complaint

An employee or worker can file a complaint of religious discrimination with the federal Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) under the following circumstances:

  • If you have been treated differently because of your religious attire
  • If your employer refuses to give you reasonable accommodation
  • If you have been demoted or refused promotion due to your religion
  • If you have been harassed or treated unfairly because of your religion

In California, a victim of religious discrimination, whose employer has 15 or more employees, may file a complaint within 300 days of the act. If one’s employer has at least 5 employees, a victim may file the charge with the California Department of Fair Employment and Housing (DFEH) within a year of the discriminatory act. Filing a complaint of religious discrimination is the only way you can protect your right to sue your employer in court, which is guaranteed by both federal and state laws.

At any rate, you can ask the assistance of an experienced discrimination attorney to discuss your situation and how the law could help you


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