Religious Discrimination in the Workplace

Religious beliefs and free exercise of religious beliefs are enshrined in the First Amendment of the United States Constitution. However, the protections afforded by the Federal Constitution apply to governmental entities or governmental actors. The Civil Rights Act of 1964, specifically, Title VII of that Act, governs protection of religious beliefs in the private sector. Title VII of the Civil Rights Act prohibits employers with at least 15 employees, as well as employment agencies and unions, from discriminating in employment based on race, color, religion, sex, and national origin.

Title VII prohibits (note this is a summary and not intended to provide all of the detail):

  • Treating employees differently based upon their religious beliefs or lack thereof, in any aspect of employment
  • Harassing employees on the basis of their religious beliefs
  • Denying an employee’s request for reasonable accommodation of his/her sincerely held religious beliefs, or lack thereof, as long as that accommodation will not result in an undue burden on the business operations.
  • Retaliating against an employee who has engaged in whistle-blowing activities related to religious discrimination

What is a Religious Belief?

The definition of “religious beliefs” within the meaning of Title VII of the Act is very broad. These beliefs do not need to be consistent with your own religious denomination’s beliefs, in fact, your religious beliefs can even be considered illogical or unreasonable to others. The beliefs can be theistic or non-theistic views that concern moral/ethical beliefs about right vs. wrong and are sincerely held with strength similar to that of theistic religious beliefs.

How to Obtain a Reasonable Accommodation

You as the employee must make your employer aware of 1) the need for an accommodation, and 2) that the accommodation is being requested due to a conflict between your religious beliefs and a work related duty/requirement. If your employer solicits additional information (i.e., limited inquiry) regarding your sincerely held religious belief, cooperate and provide. Employers are permitted to make limited inquiries. After this inquiry, the employer must provide the employee with a reasonable accommodation for their religious beliefs (note: reasonable implies that the employee need not be completely satisfied with everything about the employer’s accommodation).

However, sometimes, in limited circumstances, the employer may not need to provide the reasonable accommodation if the accommodation imposes an undue hardship on the employer’s business (defined as more than a de minimis cost or burden). To prove undue hardship, the employer needs to show how much cost/burden the accommodation will cause. Factors involved in an undue hardship analysis include the type of workplace, nature of the employee’s duties, the cost of the accommodation in relation to the size and operating costs of the employer, and the number of employees who will need an accommodation.

If you need assistance obtaining an accommodation for your religious beliefs, or if you believe you have been harassed, retaliated against, or otherwise discriminated against, please contact me.

Religious Exemptions in Schools – Vaccines

In the context of medical interventions, specifically, vaccines, New Jersey affords students the ability to opt-out if the student’s sincerely held religious belief(s) conflict with the practice of vaccination. If you need assistance seeking a religious exemption to mandatory vaccination, or guidance about how to properly frame your thoughts in religious exemptions letters, please contact me. Mr. Stavola has successfully assisted countless individuals in obtaining religious exemptions over the years.