Religious Discrimination

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Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 prohibits employers from engaging in religious discrimination in the workplace. The New Jersey Law Against Discrimination (NJLAD) also protects against religious discrimination in employment. Under both the federal and New Jersey laws, it is illegal for an employer to treat you differently or to harass you because of your religion. Still, religious discrimination continues in many forms. If you were denied a promotion, accommodation, or a job altogether due to your religious beliefs or lack thereof, you should speak to a discrimination attorney in New Jersey to determine whether your rights have been violated under Title VII or the NJLAD.

Everyone has the right to apply for and receive fair consideration for any job regardless of religious beliefs. If you were denied a promotion, accommodation or a job altogether due to your religious beliefs or lack thereof, you might have a claim. Consult with a New Jersey discrimination lawyer to review your case.

What is religious discrimination?

If an employer treats a job applicant or an employee unfavorably because of his or her religious beliefs, that is religious discrimination. Title VII protects people in organized religions such as Christianity, Islam, Judaism, Buddhism and Hinduism. In addition, it protects others who have “sincerely held” religious, moral, or ethical beliefs. Atheists and agnostics receive Title VII protection from discrimination as well. It is also religious discrimination to treat someone differently because that person is associated with, or married to someone of a particular religion.

Likewise, the NJLAD also protects people who belong to a particular religious faith; attend a particular place of worship; are non-believers; are associated with others of a particular religion; are perceived to be of a particular religious faith; or who have strongly held, sincere and meaningful moral or ethical beliefs. 

Title VII and NJLAD compliance

In order to comply with employment laws in New Jersey, there are actions employers must strictly avoid. Here are some examples of religious discrimination:

  • Refusing to hire, recruit, or promote somebody because of their religious beliefs.
    • Asking job applicants about their future ability at certain times.
    • Excluding a job applicant from consideration for hire if their name may be associated with a particular religion.
    • Imposing stricter requirements for promotion due to someone’s religion. 
  • Giving someone more or different work requirements because of their religion.
  • Scheduling interviews or examinations in conflict with a current or prospective employee’s religious needs.
  • Terminating an employee due to their religious beliefs, or because they requested a reasonable accommodation for their religious beliefs.
  • Failing to address frequent, severe, or pervase offensive actions and remarks towards an employee’s religious beliefs.
    • This can create a hostile work environment.
    • This can include remarks from employers, managers, co-workers, or even clients or customers.

There are some exceptions to the general rule. In some instances, religious organizations  may discriminate against employees who do not conform to their beliefs. For example, a Catholic school may require all of its teachers to be Catholic. Many of these cases, however, require extra scrutiny. If you are unsure if your employer or potential employer did not hire or promote you due to your religious beliefs, it is best to speak to an employment law attorney. 

What is a sincerely held belief?

Employers must accommodate an employee’s religious beliefs if they are “sincerely held.” While the sincerity of an employee’s beliefs is not usually questioned, the employee’s willingness to face termination due to their beliefs is often sufficient to prove sincerity. This issue usually comes up when an employer believes an employee wants an exception to the normal rules. For example, a company dress code might prohibit employees from displaying tattoos and piercings. If an employee protests this dress code on the grounds that it violates their religious beliefs, the employer might believe that the employee is simply trying to avoid following the rules. 

Ultimately, the courts evaluate the issue of “sincerely held” beliefs on a case-by-case basis. If you asked your employer for an accommodation based on a sincerely held belief and were denied it, or retaliated against, speak to a religious discrimination attorney.

How do I request accommodation for my religious beliefs?

Ask your manager or boss to meet with you. Explain that you need an accommodation that will allow you to practice your religion at work. It is possible and permissible for your employer to not be familiar with your church or religion. Be prepared to explain what your beliefs are and how changing certain workplace rules would allow you to practice your beliefs. Your boss or manager may then ask you questions about your beliefs and how exactly they conflict with work requirements.

You may then suggest accommodations. If you wish to not work on the Sabbath, you can offer to work at different days of the week. If you need to pray at a certain time, you can ask for a break at the specific time so you can pray. Your employer does not need to grant you the exact accommodation you asked for. However, he or she must try to find a solution that will work since you are legally entitled to an accommodation unless your employer can prove it would cause them undue hardship. 

What is a reasonable accommodation for religious beliefs?

A reasonable accommodation for religious beliefs is an adjustment an employer makes for an employee that will not cause the employer “undue hardship.” Examples of reasonable accommodations include:

  • Flexible scheduling;
  • Frequent breaks job reassignments; and
  • Modifications to workplace policies or procedures.

The adjustment is not a reasonable accommodation if it only lessens the conflict without eliminating it. However, if an accommodation would cause the employer undue hardship, the employer must still make accommodations to the extent that they can without suffering undue hardship. This is a partial accommodation. 

The employer’s reasonable accommodation must not discriminate against or disadvantage the employee. The degree to which an accommodation is considered reasonable is determined on a case-by-case basis. 

If there are several reasonable accommodations available, an employer does not have to choose the one that the employee prefers. They may select whichever reasonable accommodation best suits their interests.

Can I dress according to my religious beliefs at work?

Speak to your employer if your religion requires you to wear a specific article of clothing. Your employer may only deny you the ability to wear religious clothing at work if they can prove that it would cause them undue hardship.

Denying you the ability to wear religious garments out of fear of losing or offending customers is not legal.  If your employer asks you to remove or not wear clothing required by your religion, you should speak to a discrimination lawyer in New Jersey.

Religious discrimination: what should I do?

If you believe you have faced discrimination due to your religion, consult a religious discrimination attorney early in the process. In some cases, you must first file a complaint with your supervisors or your HR department before taking legal action. If your supervisors resolve your complaint properly, they have satisfied their legal duty to accommodate you. If they do not resolve your complaint, you may have cause to sue. Enlisting the help of a religious discrimination attorney may be helpful in formulating your complaint  and ensuring you meet all relevant deadlines.

New Jersey religious discrimination attorneys

The law constantly evolves with respect to civil liberties and civil rights. Religious discrimination continues to be a complex aspect of employment law. Do not let this intimidate you. The New Jersey religious discrimination attorneys at Schall and Barasch are experienced employment attorneys. With decades of experience in employee-side discrimination cases, they are equipped to advise you and advocate for you. Fill out their online case evaluation or call their office at 856.914.9200. 

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