Labor Law: Employers cannot tolerate any form of discrimination or harassment based on religion
The recent horrific events in Pittsburgh wherein members of the Jewish community were killed while at their place of worship is a stark reminder that prejudices against religious beliefs remains in our society.
At work, employers cannot tolerate any form of discrimination or harassment based on religion.
Title VII of the Civil Rights Act prohibits discrimination based on religion, to include forcing someone to participate in a certain religion at work, segregating an employee due to religion (such as placing a person who wears certain religious garb in a non-customer facing position), or treating an employee in a disparate manner due to religious beliefs.
Discrimination cannot occur in any aspect of employment, to include hiring, firing, pay, job assignments, promotions, layoff, training, fringe benefits and any other term or condition of employment.
In addition, the law prohibits harassment based on religion, including offensive remarks based on someone’s religion.
While the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission acknowledges that the law doesn’t protect “simple teasing, offhand comments or isolated incidents that aren’t very serious,” employers should not tolerate any inappropriate comments or behaviors regardless of whether they rise to the level of being legally actionable.
The law further requires that employers provide reasonable accommodations for an employee’s religious beliefs or preferences, unless providing the accommodation would create an undue hardship.
Employees may need schedule changes or leave due to religious observances, which should be provided so long as the time off does not impact safety or business operations.
In addition, dress and grooming policies may need to be amended for those needing accommodation to wear a head covering (such as a Jewish yarmulke) or certain hairstyles or facial hair.
For example, members of the Rastafarian religion may require dreadlocks to accommodate their religious beliefs, or members of the Sikh religion may need uncut hair and/or a beard.
An employee needing an accommodation needs to notify his or her employer of the religious beliefs and needed accommodation.
Once an employee requests a reasonable accommodation, employers need to engage in the interactive discussion and make reasonable efforts to accommodate the employee.