Workplace Religious Discrimination: The EEOC Seeks To Address A Growing Issue
The number of posts which I have written on the subject of religious discrimination keeps growing: employers still have not learned to accommodate religious beliefs and practices, and the EEOC keeps pursuing such cases.
The EEOC has just stated that “Religious discrimination remains an issue in the American workplace. In fiscal year 2015, EEOC received 3,502 charges alleging discrimination on the basis of religion, with the top issues alleged being discharge, harassment, terms and conditions of employment, and reasonable accommodation.”
As part of its outreach and education, the EEOC has announced the publication and release of a one-page fact sheet “designed to help young workers better understand their rights and responsibilities” with respect to religious discrimination. “The fact sheet is available at EEOC’s [email protected] website, which presents information for teens and other young workers about employment discrimination.”
On July 14th I wrote that “the majority of cases I’ve seen fall into two categories: those whose religious faith requires them to refrain from working on certain days, such as the Sabbath, and those whose religiously-required dress or grooming is not in compliance with a corporate ‘appearance’ policy.”
I noted a new EEOC religious discrimination lawsuit which alleged that a Rastafarian whose religious practice includes wearing dreadlocks was allegedly fired for this, and said that “Title VII does not prohibit dress or grooming rules per se, as long as these rules do not have a ‘disparate impact’ on, for example, employees who have religious beliefs (or also a disability) which require a certain dress or hair style. Title VII requires an employer, once it is aware that a religious accommodation is needed, to accommodate an employee whose sincerely held religious belief, practice, or observance conflicts with a work requirement, unless doing so would pose an undue hardship.
Therefore, when an employer’s dress and grooming policy or preference conflicts with an employee’s known religious beliefs or practices, the employer must make an exception to allow the religious practice unless that would be an undue hardship on the operation of the employer’s business.”
I also talked about cases involving the conflict between work schedules and religious beliefs, and discussed an EEOC case which claimed that a bookkeeper was told that he had to work Saturdays, but being a Hebrew Pentecostal, who could not work from sunset Friday to sunset Saturday, he asked instead to be permitted the accommodation of working Sundays or late on week nights other than Fridays. He was fired.
I gave the takeaway as: Unless it creates an undue burden, an employee’s religious practices and beliefs must be accommodated by an employer. And seeking such an accommodation through an interactive process with the employee is a must. Moreover, most religious accommodations are not unduly costly, and “one thing is certain: the EEOC has decidedly not abandoned its efforts to pursue claims of employment discrimination based upon religion.”
For employers and everyone else involved in the workplace, the EEOC has noted that it has many resources:
“EEOC has developed information to educate employers, employees, and the public about religious discrimination, including Questions and Answers: Religious Discrimination in the Workplace and Best Practices for Eradicating Religious Discrimination in the Workplace. Last December, EEOC released documents for employees and employers that focused on discrimination against people who are or are perceived to be Muslim or Middle Eastern, and an accompanying background summary.
The Commission has also issued technical assistance publications concerning Religious Garb and Grooming in the Workplace: Rights and Responsibilities and an accompanying fact sheet describing when an employer’s garb or grooming policies must give way to an employee’s or applicant’s sincerely held religious beliefs or practices about certain garb or grooming, such as a headscarf for Muslims, Pentecostal women requesting to wear skirts, or beards worn by Orthodox Jews or Sikhs.”