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Where does religious discrimination begin and end on your job?

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Americans are taught that religion is sacred. The separation of church and state is a founding principal that every kid learns early in school. But in today's America, the idea that everyone should be free to practice their own religion when and how they please flies in the face of the new political reality.

Then, what is discrimination? 

According to the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC), the federal agency that oversees civil rights in the workplace, employers may not discriminate in hiring, promoting or assigning work responsibilities based solely on an employee's religion or religious practices. Employers may also be in violation of anti-discrimination laws if they refuse to establish reasonable accommodations within the guidelines of the law.

The EEOC makes it quite clear that workers have the right to sue under the 1972 amendment to the Title VII of the Equal Employment Opportunity Act if they can demonstrate an employer's actions, behaviors or tolerance for religious discrimination, including:

  • Harassment based on religion or religious practices
  • Refusing to establish reasonable accommodations for workers to practice their faith, both in terms of on-site facilities, as well as schedules and approved absences for religious observance
  • Disallowing religious dress or grooming practices
  • Segregation into work groups or work stations and office locations based solely on religion and religious practices

What constitutes reasonable accommodation?

Let's make it clear that employers do not have to bend over backward to allow every worker to use the workplace as their church, synagogue, mosque or temple. Yes, workers do have the right to reasonable accommodations in the workplace. For Christians and Jews, this may mean allowing an excused absence for specific recognized holy days. For Muslims, this often means establishing a specific place of prayer and accommodating required periods of prayer.

Are you facing religious discrimination?

Harassment because of your religion is relatively easy to figure out. You know it when you hear it or see it on the job. Discrimination, however, can be subtle; almost invisible. Some employers have been engaging in the practice so long they believe it is a normal part of running their businesses.

Apply the duck test. If something quacks like a duck, swims like a duck and waddles like a duck, you should trust that it is a duck. If something on your job is hindering your desire to practice your faith in a reasonable way that will not affect the efficiency of the workflow or safety of other workers, you may be facing some level of discrimination.

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