Hostile Work Environment – Religious Discrimination

Religious discrimination occurs when a job applicant or employee is treated unfavorably because of their religious beliefs. In Colorado, religious discrimination is an illegal employment practice. Employees and job applicants are protected regardless of whether their religion is a traditional, organized religion such as Christian, Buddhism, Hinduism, Islam, or Judaism. The primary requirement is that the religious belief is sincerely held.

Discrimination is prohibited even when the person being discriminated against is the spouse of an individual with a particular religion or when the employer perceives an individual as holding a particular religious belief because of a stereotype or mistake.

What is a Hostile Work Environment?

There are two primary types of employment discrimination: quid pro quo and harassment. A hostile work environment claim is a type of discrimination claim that is based on harassment in the workplace. When there are harsh or repeated instances of harassment because of an employee’s religion, this behavior can create a hostile work environment.

In order for a hostile work environment claim to be successful, there does not need to be a tangible employment action or economic injury, such as being demoted or fired. The mere existence of a hostile work environment is sufficient. In Colorado, hostile work environment claims can be brought under Title VII (42 U.S.C. § 2000e et seq.) or under Colorado’s Anti-Discrimination Act (Co. Rev. Stat. § 24-34-402).

Discriminatory behavior that can create a hostile work environment can include, but is not limited to:

  • Telling derogatory jokes about a religion;
  • Using religious slurs or name calling;
  • Bringing objects or pictures that are offensive to a religion into the workplace;
  • Ridicule or mockery of a religious belief;
  • Articles about religion in an employee newsletter;
  • Requiring prayer in the workplace; and
  • Proselytizing, or attempting to convert someone to a different religion.

Just as the person being harassed does not personally have to hold the religious belief in order to be the victim of harassment, the harasser does not have to be the employer in order for a hostile in order for a hostile workplace to exist. Harassing behavior by co-workers or a client or customer can create a hostile workplace.

Religious Harassment

In order for behavior to amount to prohibited harassment on the basis of religion, it must be so frequent or severe that it creates a hostile or offensive work environment or results in an adverse employment decision. Often, behavior will fall within a grey area where a religious belief is being expressed but the expression does not necessarily constitute harassment. For example, saying “God bless you” in response to a sneeze is not severe enough to be harassment, even though it may express an underlying religious belief.

Once an employer learns that religious harassment is occurring in the workplace, the employer must exercise reasonable care to prevent and correct the harassment. If, on the other hand, the harassment is ignored, the employer will likely be liable.

Contact a Colorado Hostile Work Environment Attorney

No employee should have to experience harassment at work because of their religion. If you are a victim of religious discrimination, the lawyers at HKM Employment Attorneys LLP may be able to help you bring a workplace discrimination claim or lawsuit. In addition to representing victims of discrimination, we also serve as an advocate for employers who have been accused of religious discrimination.

If you are a victim of religious harassment in the workplace, call HKM Employment Attorneys LLP at 303-991-3075 or contact us online for a private consultation.