While the First Amendment of the U.S. Constitution prohibits state or federal establishment of any religion, it also guarantees the free exercise of all religions. The free exercise clause has been revitalized by recent U.S. Supreme Court cases. Federal law also protects against religious discrimination in the workplace through Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964. However, Title VII applies only to businesses with fifteen employees or more and has a narrow 180-day period in which to file an initial complaint. To further protect Idaho residents, the Idaho Human Rights Act of 1969 extends protections against religious discrimination beyond employment to include public accommodations, education, and real estate transactions.

At Idaho Employment Solutions, we provide the legal services you need to protect these precious constitutional rights.

What is Religious Discrimination?

Religious discrimination means treating someone unfavorably merely because of their religious beliefs. It can take many forms, especially in the workplace. Obvious forms of religious discrimination might include refusing to hire an employee because of religious affiliation, permitting a hostile work environment that harasses an employee due to his or her religion, or lack of, and imposing religious beliefs at the workplace on employees. More subtle forms of religious discrimination involve failure to accommodate employees’ religious requirements, such as banning a headscarf, forcing an employee to work on the sabbath or another holiday, or failure to promote an employee because of religious affiliation.

Religious discrimination encompasses:

  • Disparate treatment
  • Denial of reasonable accommodation
  • Workplace segregation based on religion
  • Workplace harassment based on religion
  • Retaliation for requesting or providing an accommodation

Workplace Religious Accommodation

Both Idaho and federal law requires that employers make reasonable accommodations for religious beliefs and practices in the workplace so as not to interfere with the free exercise of religion. Ordinarily, an employer must make an accommodation to an employee’s sincerely held religious beliefs or practices unless the accommodation would impose an undue hardship on the operation of the business. Because our system of justice avoids testing the faith of any individual, religious practice is still sincere even if it is newly adopted, inconsistently observed, or unconventional among the common practices of that religion.

Examples of workplace religious accommodations include:

  • Exceptions to a business’s dress and grooming code. The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) has issued guidance on these situations in Religious Garb and Grooming in the Workplace: Rights and Responsibilities
    • Permitting modest dressing by women following a variety of faiths, such as Christianity, Mormonism, Judaism, and Islam
    • Permitting a beard or hairstyling
    • Allowing a Shoshoni or Northern Paiute hairstyle or accessory, a Muslim woman to wear a headscarf, a Jewish man to wear a skullcap, a Sikh employee to wear a turban, or any employee to wear a religious symbol, such as a cross, a star of David, or a crescent
  • Workplace scheduling:
    • Releasing employees from working on their sabbath
    • Avoiding work schedules that interfere with the religious observance of holidays and rituals
    • Permitting time off to pray at work
  • Excused from specific projects means that employees should not be forced to choose between their beliefs and the demands of the workplace:
    • A Mormon pharmacist was excused from filling prescriptions for medical abortifacients
    • A Quaker or Jehovah’s Witness from working directly on war-related or weapons projects
    • An atheist from participating in religious invocations or practices at staff meetings or company events

Types of Religious Discrimination

Religious discrimination at the workplace can happen at any stage of the employment process: recruitment, hiring, promotion, compensation and bonuses, fringe benefits, job assignment, training, and termination.

There are many different types of religious discrimination that can take place in the workplace. Some of the most common include:

Recruitment and Hiring: Employers may discriminate against potential employees based on their religion, or they may ask about an applicant’s religious beliefs during the interview process.

Promotion and Compensation: Employers may also discriminate against current employees when it comes to promotions, raises, or bonuses. This can include denying access to training opportunities or other benefits based on religion.

Fringe Benefits: Many workplace benefits are offered in accordance with an employee’s religious beliefs, such as health insurance plans that cover specific treatments and medications. However, employers may refuse to provide these benefits to employees of a certain religion, or they may charge them higher premiums for the same coverage.

Job Assignment: Employers may try to force employees to work in jobs that conflict with their religious beliefs, or they may assign them tasks that are against their religion.

Training: Some employers offer training programs that include religious instruction or indoctrination. Employees may be forced to participate in these programs, or they may be denied access to training opportunities because of their religion.

Termination: Employers may fire employees because of their religion, or they may force them to resign because of religious discrimination.

You Are Protected Under Title VII

Unless you work for a religious organization or religious educational institution, you might be covered under the federal Title VII law that prohibits religious discrimination. However, the size of your employer is important, because Title VII only applies to businesses that employ fifteen workers or more. Title VII prohibits all forms of religious discrimination, which might include:

  • Employment decisions based on religion
  • Promotion decisions based on religion
  • Failure to provide reasonable accommodations
  • Disparate treatment
  • Policies with discriminatory impact, even if unintentional
  • Hostile work environments, even if the employer isn’t the offender

Do You Have a Religious Discrimination Claim?

You can be the victim of religious discrimination for not having religious beliefs as well as for having them. Once you suspect you have not been hired, promoted, or trained because of a religious belief, or lack of one; subjected to workplace harassment due to religious views; or subjected to termination or choice between work and religious practice, you should start keeping notes immediately. Be discreet. And continue doing a good job, collecting evaluations and critiques so that you can corroborate that any adverse actions were taken for illegal reasons. Review the company handbook and prepare to file a complaint using the procedures outlined to preserve your rights. Seek support from friends and family to maintain your emotional and mental health.

Most importantly, contact Idaho Employment Law Solutions to schedule an appointment to discuss your case and all of your options.

Religious Discrimination FAQs

What laws protect me from workplace discrimination because of my religious beliefs or practices?

Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 covers employers with fifteen employees or more, except for religious organizations or religious educational institutions. Idaho Human Rights Act of 1969 extends protections against religious discrimination beyond employment to include public accommodations, education, and real estate transactions.

What are the remedies for religious discrimination in the workplace?

There are many remedies for religious discrimination in the workplace. One solution is to file a complaint with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC). The EEOC will investigate your complaint and determine if there is enough evidence to support a case against your employer. If the EEOC finds that your employer has violated federal anti-discrimination law, they will try to resolve the issue through informal methods such as mediation. If the EEOC is unable to resolve the issue, they may file a lawsuit on your behalf.

Another solution is to file a private lawsuit against your employer. In a private lawsuit, you would need to prove that your employer intentionally discriminated against you because of your religion. This can be difficult to do, so it is important to work with an employment discrimination attorney that has experience dealing with religious discrimination cases.

Contact Idaho Employment Law Solutions

Idaho Employment Law Solutions is an African-American and Veteran-owned law firm providing quality and efficient legal counsel to businesses, organizations, employers/ employees, as well as individual multi-cultural clients located throughout Idaho.

Idaho Employment Law Solutions is skilled in handling charges of discrimination based on gender, sexual orientation, disability, religion, race, national origin and pregnancy submitted to the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC), the Idaho Human Rights Commission, the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services and the U.S. Department of Labor. Idaho Employment Law Solutions has extensive experience in handling complaints by employees about discrimination or harassment before those complaints become official charges of discrimination. Idaho Employment Law Solutions is experienced in guiding its business clients through sexual harassment investigations and provides advice on a case-by-case basis about the most effective way for the employer and employee to address claims of discrimination.

Contact Idaho Employment Law Solutions by phone at (208) 672-6112 to make an appointment. Legal advice will not be provided over the telephone. There will be a $75 charge for initial consultations.

You may also contact us by email or request additional information using the form below.

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Ron Coulter at Idaho Employment Law Solutions has been an essential part of my small business team for over 16 years. He worked with my company to develop company handbooks, employment contracts, and employee training. His preventative work was key to our success when faced with an actual employee contract dispute in court. I am grateful to Ron’s attention to detail, phenomenal work ethic, and genuine care for his clients. Idaho Employment Law Solutions is a great partner for small businesses who want to succeed.

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I was involved in an administrative procedure which could have ultimately led to my termination of employment. I contacted Idaho Employment Law Solutions which is owned and operated by Ron Coulter, a career U.S. Marine Corps Officer.  The qualities that impressed me most about Ron, was that nothing was “sugar coated”, Ron was up-front, straight forward, and Ron told me what to expect at each phase of the administrative process. When I asked a question, Ron always took care to provide a complete answer which very often included a follow-up legal analysis that a lay person could understand. Ron is an outstanding and experienced employment law attorney. He was reassuring and effective in his representation of me in this  administrative procedure.  There is no doubt, that the selection of Idaho Employment Law Solutions was the correct choice

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