Religious Discrimination

Examples of Religious Discrimination:

  • Your employer refuses to allow you to appropriately express your faith at work
  • Members of management implicitly or explicitly demand that you participate in their religion
  • Your employer takes employment action against you because of your religion
  • You experience severe or pervasive harassment because of your religion

Your religion doesn’t affect your rights

Most employers cannot hire, fire, or take adverse employment action (such as discipline or lowering pay) against an employee because that employee practices a particular religion or no religion at all. With rare exception, employers also may not discriminate against employees who do not share their religious beliefs. This means that if an employee is asked whether they practice a specific religion in an interview, or is fired because they practice a different religion than their manager, that it is likely illegal. It also means that an employee cannot be punished because they do not follow a specific religion or if they decline to participate in group prayer.

If an employee needs an accommodation for a religious purpose—like attending a prayer service during work hours or wearing religious symbols or garb that is otherwise not allowed by company rules—the employee may be entitled to that accommodation. In Equal Employment Opportunity Commission v. Abercrombie & Fitch Stores, the United States Supreme Court found that Abercrombie illegally refused to hire a woman wearing a hijab because the hijab violated their “look policy,” and Abercrombie should have known that the woman needed a religious accommodation. An employee may not be retaliated against because he or she asked for a religious accommodation.

Religious organizations, like churches or religious schools, have somewhat different rules. These employers have a primary “spiritual” purpose instead of a primary “business” purpose, even if they make a profit. Religious organizations still cannot discriminate against employees who are not spiritual leaders. For example, a religious organization cannot discriminate against a custodian because of his race, nationality, age, disability, etc. However, the United States Supreme Court ruled that the government should not have a say in who spiritually leads a religious organization. This means that religious organizations may discriminate against ministerial employees, even if they are a member of a protected class.

A ministerial employee is someone like a pastor, priest, youth leader, or maybe even a teacher whose duties include spiritual practice.

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Frequently Asked Questions About Religious Discrimination