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Employment Law Basics Part 3: Religious Discrimination


In part 3 of this blog series, we will discuss religious discrimination in the workplace. Discrimination based on an employee’s religious beliefs involves more than harassment or imposing different policies. It can involve refusing to provide reasonable accommodations, imposing dress or grooming policies, or segregation. If you believe you may be experiencing discrimination because of your religious beliefs, contact us to discuss your situation.

The Basics Definition of Religious Discrimination

Religious discrimination refers to situations where employees are treated less favorably because of their religious beliefs regardless of whether they practice a traditional religion like Christianity, Islam or Catholicism, or whether they have other sincerely held religious, moral, or ethical beliefs. Religious discrimination also involves mistreatment of employees because they are associated with someone following a particular religion.

Discrimination in the Form of Religious Segregation

When employees are segregated in the workplace because of their religious beliefs, such as being assigned to job duties that do not involve customer contact because of the employee’s grooming practices of religious clothing, that is considered unlawful segregation. Some employees segregate employees who wear hijabs, for instance, because of customer preference or the fear that they will lose customers if they do not segregate those employees. Those employer decisions are unlawful.

Reasonable Accommodations for Sincerely Held Religious Beliefs

Much like workplace accommodations for disabled employees, employers are required to provide reasonable accommodations for an employee’s religious beliefs or practices. The exception is when providing an accommodation would result in a significant burden on the business. It is expected that employers will allow for reasonable adjustments to the work environment that will accommodate the employee’s religious practice. Reasonable accommodations often include providing a more flexible schedule, allowing leave for religious observances, and modifying job assignments.

Issues with Dress Codes and Grooming Policies

Providing reasonable accommodations based on religious beliefs also includes providing reasonable exceptions with regard to grooming and clothing. For example, certain religions require individuals to wear head coverings or specific hairstyles. On the other hand, there are certain religions that prohibit their followers from wearing certain clothing. Employers are expected to make exceptions to these policies when it is reasonable to do so.

What to Expect from the Accommodation Process

If an employee or applicant requests an accommodation based on their religious beliefs, they must first notify the employer and provide sufficient information so that the employer can engage in the interactive process of negotiating the specifics of the accommodation. If it is determined that the requested accommodation will not create an undue hardship for the employer, then it must be granted.

When is an Accommodation Unreasonable?

Employers are not required to accommodate the religious beliefs or practices of employees or applicants if it will cause an undue hardship. That means, if providing an accommodation will be too costly, endanger employees, decrease the efficiency of the business, or infringe on the rights of other employees, then an employer may not be required to provide that accommodation.

If you feel you have been the victim of discrimination or retaliation in the workplace, or if you have any other questions regarding your employment rights, please contact the experienced Birmingham employment law attorneys at Michel | King . You can contact us either online or by calling us at (205) 319-9724. We are here to serve you!

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