Religious Discrimination

“It is precisely that requirement of shared worship that has been the principal source of suffering for individual man and the human race since the beginning of history. In their efforts to impose universal worship, men have unsheathed their swords and killed one another. They have invented gods and challenged each other: ‘Discard your gods and worship mine or I will destroy both your gods and you!’”

—Fyodor Dostoyevsky, The Brothers Karamazov


Workplace discrimination on the basis of religion involves treating an employee differently because of what they believe in (or don’t believe in).  Civil rights laws prohibit employers from discriminating against individuals because of their religion in hiring, firing, and other terms and conditions of employment. These laws also require employers to (reasonably) accommodate the religious practices of an employee, unless it would create an undue hardship upon the employer.

So what is a reasonable accommodation?  A reasonable religious accommodation is any modification to the workplace that will allow the employee to practice his or her religion, such as:

  • Flexible scheduling
  • Voluntary substitutions or swaps
  • Job reassignments and lateral transfers

Discrimination on the basis of religion can include both theistic and non-theistic beliefs that are sincerely held with the strength of more traditional religious beliefs.  A boss, supervisor, manager, human resources representative, or coworker can commit a wrong based on religious discrimination, and still be someone you don’t want to make trouble for or argue with.  However, when those wrongs have impacted on you, those same people still need to answer for the damage they have caused.

So what is discrimination on the basis of religion?  Here are some examples of discrimination by employers that we have seen with our clients or that have been reported in court cases:

  • Scheduling examinations or other applicant or promotion selection activities in conflict with a current or prospective employee’s religious needs
  • Maintaining an unnecessarily restrictive dress code
  • Refusing to allow observance of a religious holiday
  • Biased comments, slurs, jokes
  • Excluding potential employees during recruitment
  • Denying certain employees compensation or benefits
  • Discriminating when issuing promotions or lay-offs
  • Allowing or creating a hostile work environment based on religious belief, making the workplace a difficult or offensive environment that interferes with an employee’s ability to work
  • Terminating or demoting based on religious belief
  • Issuing unfair discipline based on religious belief, faultfinding, nitpicking

This is of course not a comprehensive list of the ways in which discrimination can rear its ugly head at work, but it is a list that you may be more familiar with than you would like.  If you are experiencing any, or many, of the above discriminatory actions, please understand that it is in the vested interests of the wrongdoers to make you feel guilty for or hesitate to pursue potential legal claims.  Contact an employment attorney to discuss what’s been happening to you, we’ve heard it all, we know how this works, and we want to help.