6 Forms of Religious Discrimination at Work (And How to Address Them) - Shegerian Law 6 Forms of Religious Discrimination at Work (And How to Address Them)
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Religion is one of the oldest proofs of human civilization. As such, it’s also one of the facets of existence to bring discourse and debate because of their origins and the culture and practices threaded into it. Fortunately, more and more people acknowledge the differences between all religions.

However, while this is a positive development for humanity, religious discrimination persists. Sometimes, it happens right under your nose and in the most mundane settings. Some religious discrimination examples include a bank denying a loan application or a school refusing enrollment to a person of a particular religion.

Another common form of discrimination is religious harassment in the workplace, intentional or unintentional. Being denied an opportunity for a job interview because of one’s religion is peculiar, as religious practices do not affect a person’s ability to accomplish tasks and execute work-related activities up to standards.

Learn about workplace religious discrimination and the legal safeguards to combat the problem.

What is Religious Discrimination?

Religious discrimination can come in many forms. It pertains to how employers, co-workers, clients, or customers treat employees unfairly and unequally because of their beliefs, religious practices, or lack thereof. This covers workplace rules or policy amendments due to one’s religious beliefs and practices. This unreasonable behavior is against the law.

Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 defines religion as a term that covers “all aspects of religious observance and practice, as well as belief.” The law governs all Christian denominations and other faiths, such as Islam, Judaism, Buddhism, Hinduism, and more. Regardless of an employee’s religion, it’s unlawful for employers to violate their rights in expressing their beliefs in the workplace.

As an employee, you should study and understand your legal rights, including broken civil rights laws. There are rules and regulations in place to protect you from unacceptable treatment like this in the workplace.

The U.S. Congress passed the Religious Freedom Restoration Act (RFRA) in 1993, which prohibits federal agencies and departments of any State from passing a law that bounds a person from expressing their religious freedom unless the “application of the burden” is for the advancement of the governmental interest.

Religious Discrimination: Facts and Figures

1. A Pew Research Center survey shows that around 82% of American adults say Muslims experienced at least some discrimination in the U.S. in 2019; 56% say Muslims are discriminated against frequently.

Many U.S. Muslims shared they experience discrimination even outside the workplace. Different studies show that Islamophobia is on the rise in America. Hate mail, anti-Muslim graffiti, and death threats over the phone have been reported in Chicago. 

2. More countries restrict women from wearing religious attire or symbols than dress in a specific manner.

In some parts of the world, laws or policies prohibit women from wearing hijabs in the workplace, such as in the public sector, nurses, and front-line military workers.

3. A vast majority of pagans (Wiccans, Druids, Shamanists, and African traditional religion followers) report anxiety over their beliefs and practices being disclosed in the workplace.

This anxiety or fear is common among individuals who conceal their beliefs (or non-beliefs) in the workplace. They believe withholding the information makes them less likely to receive harassment or bullying.

4. Only 19.8% of Muslims aged 16 to 74 were employed full-time, compared with 34.9% of the overall population in the U.K.

This shows that Muslim men and women are not given equal opportunities or are held back in the workplace because of Islamophobia. Moreover, the research revealed that minority ethnic-sounding names have fewer chances of being offered an interview. Young Muslims also routinely fear being targets of harassment and are expected to work “10 times as hard” as their white counterparts.

5. Research reveals that atheists or agnostic employees experience and report harassment in the form of imposition of beliefs.

The imposition of beliefs is a form of harassment where organizational leaders mandate participation in religious practices regardless of one’s faith—in particular, requiring or urging employees to attend services or prayers of a specific religion.

Religious Discrimination: Basic Protections 

  1. Refusing to hire an individual based on religion is unlawful employment practice. (SEC. 2000e-2. [Section 703], Title VII of the Civil Rights Act)

  2. Disparate treatment based on religion is prohibited (SEC. 2000e-2. [Section 703] (k1) [A])

  3. Discrimination based on religion in providing training programs is prohibited. (SEC. 2000e-2. [Section 703] (d))

  4. Expulsion from membership based on religion is an unlawful employment practice for labor organizations. (SEC. 2000e-2. [Section 703] (c1))

  5. Any advertisement that indicates a preference over religion, unless religion is a bona fide occupational qualification for employment, is unlawful. (SEC. 2000e-3. [Section 704] (b))

Forms of Religious Discrimination in the Workplace

For these discriminatory behaviors to be identified and called out, you must know their different forms first. Here are some religious discrimination in workplace cases.

1. Unjust dismissal of an employee due to religion

This is a form of direct religious discrimination—treating an employee unequally or less favorably than others because of their religious background. The Civil Rights Act of 1964 prohibits employers or agencies from firing employees because they need to take a day off to observe a religious event.

While your religious beliefs cannot directly affect an employer’s decision to terminate employment, your employer can consider it if these beliefs limit your capacity to perform responsibilities, especially if they’re ordinary, daily tasks.

2. Hinder promotion based on religious practices

One example of religious discrimination in the workplace that creates a hostile work environment is your employer denying a promotion based on your religious practices. Specifically, your employer cannot deny you a well-deserved promotion just because they see your daily prayers as something that prevents you from working efficiently.

This means employers make employment decisions that completely disregard one’s work performance and capabilities.

3. Lower compensation because of religion

An example of this is receiving a salary significantly less than a different employee with the same experience and title. This also includes not receiving the same benefits as other employees for no other reason than beliefs or religious practices.

4. Verbal or physical harassment

Bullying an employee or committing a hate crime against someone at work because of religion is direct discrimination and can also be considered harassment. This may be verbal (e.g., offensive comments, use of information to stir up hatred, or being called names because of dress code) or physical (e.g., religiously motivated attacks that physically hurt an individual).

Conversely, committing any kind of harassment because of your religious practice is also prohibited, especially if it impedes your duty. Even though the Civil Rights Act’s Title VII protects religious beliefs regarding hiring, firing, benefits, promotions, demotions, and other workplace decisions, it does not apply when an employee violates the rights of others.

5. Clothing requirements that violate religious practices

When employers enforce policies that apply to everyone but disregard the employees’ religious beliefs and practices, they indirectly discriminate against those employees, since it puts them at a disadvantage. An example would be banning wearing specific religious clothing or items, such as the hijab for Muslim women or symbolic bracelets for Sikh men.

6. Prohibiting time for religious observance

Another instance of covert religious discrimination, is setting work schedules that disadvantage some employees or prevent them from taking time off for religious observance.

Other examples of religious discrimination in the workplace include:

  • Being fired, demoted, transferred to a dead-end career track, or forced to take a pay cut
  • No reasonable accommodation in your religious observances or dress
  • Being singled out and treated differently at work

Ways to Address Religious Discrimination at Work

If you or someone else has experienced discrimination in the workplace, you can take these necessary steps to address the situation appropriately.

1. Call it out

Call the person’s attention if you experience direct or indirect discrimination because of your faith. Educate them about your civil rights and let them know the issue is not to be taken lightly. Do not let it slide; otherwise, such behavior will continue.

2. Speak to the person’s manager

Raise the unruly behavior, hostile actions, or verbal attacks against the offending party’s supervisor. Set up a meeting with their immediate manager to promptly address the issue and end their objectionable behavior.

3. File a complaint

You can file a complaint against the person to let them and everyone in the organization know that religious discrimination is a serious problem to eradicate. When employees know that there’s a clear complaint process against such harassment, they are less likely to do any discriminatory behavior against others.

In 2012, Shannon Fantroy sought help from Shegerian & Associates for a discrimination case, claiming that when he said he couldn’t work on Saturdays because of his Hebrew religion, his employer wrongly rejected him for an advertised job.

4. Have legal assistance

You can employ the help of an attorney for assistance to help fight for your civil rights, and make the harasser pay for the undue hardship and emotional or physical toll that their discriminatory actions have caused you.

Going back to Fantroy’s case, federal law mandates employers to provide reasonable religious accommodations, unless doing so would be an unreasonable burden on the business. Fantroy filed the lawsuit in a federal district court with the aid of EEOC and his lawyer. As a result, back pay, front pay, injunctive relief, and damages were all requested in the claim.

Religious Discrimination is a Serious Offense

Career plays a vital role in society. Most people give a lot of thought to a job’s earning potential. As such, making the appropriate career choice will provide you with financial security vital for your well-being.

Religions and related social and cultural systems have always been significant indicators of workplace inclusivity. They affect how people view the world and the ideals they uphold or reject. As social structures, they offer a network of assistance and a sense of community.

Employees satisfied with their jobs and stable careers may also directly impact a business’s prosperity. To ensure satisfied employees keep the business rolling, companies must set inclusive rules and policies for people from all walks of life or faith.

Remember that the Constitution protects you in the workplace, including laws that allow you to express your beliefs and religious expression freely.

If you’ve been a victim of religiously motivated discrimination, don’t hesitate to fight for your rights in the workplace. For legal assistance concerning religious discrimination, get in touch with Shegerian Law. We have a team of legal professionals who can help you exercise your freedom to express your beliefs.

Frequently Asked Questions Regarding Religious Discrimination

1. What constitutes religious discrimination?

The EEOC distinguishes between two categories of workplace religious harassment.

  • The first type occurs when an employer demands job candidates renounce or modify their religious beliefs to be hired.
  • The second involves disparaging, pervasive remarks or actions against employees because of their religion.

2. Is talking about religion at work illegal? 

Is it illegal to talk about religion at work? It depends. Generally, it’s okay to declare your religious affiliation. Talking about it may even help you and your boss come to a reasonable accommodation, like time off for religious observances. However, your employer may forbid it if it violates the rights of another employee, even if your religion supports proselytizing. 

3. Do I have to prove my religion to my employer? 

Whether a worker’s beliefs are mandated by or accepted by a recognized religious organization is irrelevant. As such, an employer cannot question the employee’s belief or religious foundation, but may inquire to ascertain the sincerity of the declared belief.

4. Can my employer ask me to remove artifacts from my workspace that are religious in nature?

The answer depends on what you want to display, who can see your workstation, and what your company’s policy is regarding this matter. For instance, if your business permits staff to personalize their workspaces, you should be able to display a modest religious calendar in your cubicle. Otherwise, it would be advisable to keep your station empty.

5. Can my employer require me to engage in or refrain from participating in a religious activity?

No, an employer cannot ban employees from praying during their break time or enforce prayer meetings.


Manuela Varela

Relations Manager

Manuela Varela has been with Shegerian & Associates since August 2022. She is responsible for outreach and marketing on behalf of the firm and manages relationships between firms and referring attorneys. She is also responsible for developing business opportunities and affiliations. Manuela graduated from Loyola Marymount University with a degree in Economics and Political Science.