How Religion in the Workplace is Actually Protected by Federal Law

Religious beliefs and practices on the job are more protected than you might think, thanks to the Civil Rights Act – here’s what you need to know…

The Civil Rights Act Protects Religious Practices

Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 prohibits workplace discrimination based on religion, according to the U.S Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC), which says this includes “refusing to accommodate an employee’s sincerely held religious beliefs or practices.”

One of the ways this law protects employees is allowing them to take certain days off to observe a “sincerely held belief.”

This means allowing Christians to take off Sunday to observe the Sabbath, Saturday for Jews and Seventh-day Adventists. This would also apply for time off for observing major religious holidays.

This also means providing employees with a break for daily prayer.

Further, the EEOC states: “In most instances, employers are required by federal law to make exceptions to their usual rules or preferences to permit applicants and employees to observe religious dress and grooming practices.”

It also means that, in most workplace environments, believers should be able to wear their religious dress such as crosses, hijabs (headscarves), Jewish skull caps, or turbines for Sikhs.

This also means that employees can place a crucifix, star of David, Buddha, or any other religious symbol or saying of their choice on their desk.

Rules Apply to Every Organization with 15 Employees or More

Federal law designates that any company or organization with 15 employees or more must accommodate an employee in their “sincerely held religious beliefs or practices.”

The law provides exceptions for employers when “the accommodation would impose an undue hardship (more than a minimal burden on operation of the business).”

The EEOC defines undue hardship as an accommodation that “is costly, compromises workplace safety, decreases workplace efficiency, infringes on the rights of other employees, or requires other employees to do more than their share of potentially hazardous or burdensome work.”

Protection Against Religious Harassment

Harassment over religion, such as “offensive remarks about a person’s religious beliefs or practices” in the workplace is also protected by federal law. According to the EEOC it is “illegal to harass a person because of his or her religion.”

Harassment in the workplace is defined as illegal when “it is so frequent or severe that it creates a hostile or offensive work environment or when it results in an adverse employment decision (such as the victim being fired or demoted).”

Harassment is not considered illegal harassment when it is “simple teasing, offhand comments, or isolated incidents that aren’t very serious.”

Any employee who harasses another can make the employer itself liable. According to the EEOC, employers “may be liable not only for harassment by supervisors, but also by co-workers or by nonemployees under their control.”

Further, the law states that “employers should clearly communicate to all employees — through a written policy or other appropriate mechanism — that harassment such as ethnic slurs or other verbal or physical conduct directed toward any racial, ethnic, or religious group is prohibited and that employees must respect the rights of their co-workers.”

The Law and Employment: Religious Companies

The same law forbids discrimination on the basis of religion, stating “when it comes to any aspect of employment, including hiring, firing, pay, job assignments, promotions, layoff, training, fringe benefits, and any other term or condition of employment.”

When a job is religious-based, it usually requires a specific standard of behavior, typically based around on the tenets of faith held by the company.

When the question of whether someone needs to meet a religious standard to work in a religion-based job has gone before the Supreme Court, it has held the right for companies to uphold a religious standard in hiring practices under Title VII’s religious exemption of the Civil Rights Act.