The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) enforces Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, which prohibits employers from discriminating against employees or applicants on the basis of race, color, religion, national origin, or sex. The EEOC defines religious discrimination as treating an applicant or employee unfavorably based on his or her religious beliefs. The term religious beliefs encompasses not only those attributed to traditional, organized religions, but also any sincerely held moral or ethical beliefs. Religious discrimination and harassment is prohibited in any stage of employment, including hiring, promoting, firing, or everyday employment. Employers are also required to make reasonable accommodations for employees practicing their religious beliefs. Reasonable accommodations can mean time off work (paid or unpaid) and other adjustments to workplace policies or environment to allow the employee to practice his or her religion.
The Tannenbaum Center for Interreligious Understanding recently conducted a survey titled American Workers and Religion. The results of that survey showed that employees of all religions, not just minorities, believe that religious discrimination exists in their places of employment. Some results include:
33% of American employees have either personally witnessed or experienced an incident of religious discrimination at work.
60% of atheists stated that other people at work looked on them negatively because of their beliefs.
66% of Muslims believe that Muslims face discrimination in the workplace.
31% of other non-Christian employees felt harassed or discriminated against.
32% of white evangelical Protestants felt they suffered discrimination or mistreatment at work.
Employment experts agree that diverse workplaces improve business and productivity. With a wide array of cultural and religious backgrounds among employees, a company often has a greater ability to relate to a wider base of clients and consumers. As the workforce becomes more diverse, one would imagine that acceptance of diverse beliefs would also increase proportionally. That, however, is not necessarily the case. Diversity experts admit that with a more diverse group of employees comes a corresponding rise in conflicts based on religious differences. Furthermore, as an employer hires more employees from different religions, the different kinds of requested accommodations for religious practices may potentially increase. An employer may find it difficult to accommodate many different requests for different employees.
Religious discrimination can take many forms. Common forms of discrimination have also evolved with the times. For instance, decades ago, discrimination against Muslims used to take the form of problems with dress codes or the inability to have time off for religious holidays or prayer time. In modern times, discrimination against Muslims is now primarily harassment, such as offensive jokes or name calling. The responses from employers in addressing religious discrimination and harassment must also change with the forms of harassment.
Whether you are an atheist, non-Christian, or Christian, you should never have to work in a discriminatory environment. If you have suffered workplace discrimination or harassment, contact the attorneys at HKM as soon as possible.