What Acts Constitute Religious Discrimination, Harassment, and Accommodation

The primary law that protects employees and job applicants from religious harassment – in hiring, promotions, and firing – is Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964. Generally religious harassment, for purposes of employee rights, is treated similarly to other types of harassment based on identity traits. There are differences though which are unique to religious harassment and discrimination.

  • Religious discrimination. Employers can’t hire, fire, or make other workplace decisions based on a person’s religion. People who are not religious also can’t be mistreated in employment decisions. There is a general exception if the employment is a church or other religious organization. The discrimination works in both directions. For example, employers can’t choose to hire only Jewish people or to exclude someone who is Jewish.
  • Religious harassment which creates a hostile environment. Harassment is generally conduct that is so unwelcome or so encompassing that it creates a hostile work environment. For example, if an employee is made to regularly feel uncomfortable because of jokes about his/or religion or exclusion from various work or employee-related social functions – because of his/her religion.
  • Religious based Quid Pro Quo Harassment. Here, an employee is pressured to change or abandon religious beliefs – or to adopt other religious beliefs – in order to be hired, be promoted, avoid discipline, or avoid being terminated. Examples include:
    • The employee is told he must attend a religious meeting or seminar to advance in the company.
    • A supervisor states that workers who can’t on the weekends (including a Saturday Sabbath day or a Sunday religious day) will lose their jobs.
  • Failure to Provide Reasonable Accommodation. Employers generally must make reasonable allowance for a person’s religious beliefs and practices. While the employee has to complete the work tasks, employers generally can’t regulate what the employee wears or how the wear their hair. There are exceptions that an experienced California religious discrimination and harassment lawyer can explain.

How to tell when conduct is unwelcome?

Generally, if an employee is feeling uncomfortable, that’s a sign the conduct is unwelcome. Your attorney can explain the fine lines such as whether feeling unwelcome is subjective – what your feel – or objective – what a reasonable person with your religious beliefs would feel unwelcome.

Many statements and actions are clearly unwelcome such as calling someone a well-known name with negative connotations. Sometimes, a friendly discussion can turn unwelcome when another employee or supervisor won’t stop. Employees might be willing to explain their religion’s culture, diet, traditions, or requirements – until the worker, supervisor or employer makes clear he/she is only asking to annoy the religious person. Questions and conduct are unwelcome when it’s clear they’re not based on any educational curiosity.

Not every unwelcome statement creates a hostile work environment. It depends on the statement, on context, whether threats are involved or other factors. A statement that might be permissible once may rise to the level of creating hostility if it’s repeated every time the worker comes to work.

When is the employer liable for religious discriminate or harassment in the workplace?

Employers who are a direct participant in the discrimination or harassment are liable for their own actions.

If a supervisor/manager discriminates or harasses a worker based on the worker’s religion, the employer may be liable for two reasons:

  • First, employers are generally liable for the actions of the supervisors and managers regardless of whether they have notice – on the theory that the actions of the employer’s agents bind the employer
  • Second, employers are generally liable if they learn of misconduct and fail to take steps to correct the misconduct – to stop any future harassment.

If an employee is not a manager/supervisor, a customer, or anyone in the office harasses a worker based on his/her religion, the employer learns of the harassment, and the employer fails to take corrective measures; then the employer may also be liable for religious harassment.

A more complicated case of religious harassment involves employees or managers who discuss their religion at work. The discussion/conduct may constitute religious harassment – even if the focus isn’t on a particular worker – if the discussion rises to the level of proselytizing. Proselytizing is more than using religious language; It’s emphasizing religion when others would prefer not to hear about. There can be a fine line in the workplace between religious expression and religious harassment. There can be a fine line between accommodation and harassment.

Steps to take if you feel uncomfortable at work because of your religious beliefs or the beliefs of others

The answer depends on the level and degree of the harassment.

In some cases, it may be advisable just to ask the harasser to stop.

In other cases, you may need to file a complaint with your company’s human resources department so the employer can be placed on notice and so the employer has a chance to take corrective measures.

Depending on type of misconduct – discrimination, harassment, or failure to provide accommodations; the best course of action may be to speak with an experienced California employee rights lawyer. The attorney will explain your internal work options and your external legal rights.

Depending on the nature of the wrong, the lawyer may seek:

  • Payment for emotional distress
  • That that the worker be hired or rehired
  • That that the worker be compensated for any economic losses
  • That the employee/applicant be compensated for emotional distress.
  • The payment of legal fees may also be a valid claim.

At the California Law Offices of Stephen A. Danz and Associates, we have helped numerous employees get compensation and/or get their job back – for discrimination, harassment, and other causes. We work to negotiate just settlements but we’re also ready to try your case in court or before the proper federal or state agency. To learn if you have an employee rights claim, please call us at 877-789-9707 or use our online contact form to make an appointment. Se habla espanol.