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Legal Features

Religious Discrimination in the Workplace

The face of America is rapidly changing to reflect not only an increasing religious diversity, but also a deeper level of individual commitment to religious faith. People of faith are not only calling themselves religious, they are actually attempting to live out the tenets of their beliefs in all aspects of their lives. Because so many of Americans' waking hours are spent in the workplace, employers are regularly forced to grapple with conflicts between their employees' job requirements and these cherished, deeply personal beliefs. Employers who are committed to providing their employees with a workplace atmosphere of respect and tolerance and who take the proactive steps necessary to do so will probably find that their efforts were worthwhile, as they are likely to yield lower turnover, fewer lawsuits and, most importantly, a boosted level of employee morale.

Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 prohibits discrimination in the workplace on the basis of race, color, religion, sex or national origin. Following are some of the employers' specific duties toward religious employees or prospective employees:

• Employers may not treat employees or applicants either more or less favorably because of their religious beliefs or practices.

• Employers may not force employees to participate or not participate in any religious activity as a condition of employment.

• Employers must reasonably accommodate employees' sincerely held religious beliefs or practices, unless doing so would impose an undue hardship on the employer.

• Employers must permit employees to engage in religious expression if employees are permitted to engage in other types of personal expression at work.

• Employers must take steps to prevent religious harassment of their employees.

It is not enough for employers to avoid discriminating against religious employees. Once an employee has notified his or her employer that the employee's religious beliefs or practices conflict with work requirements, an employer will only be justified in failing to provide a reasonable accommodation if it can show that any accommodation would impose an undue hardship.

The Rutherford Institute offers employers the following recommendations:

1. Maintain professionalism at all levels in the workplace.

2. Make sure employees are encouraged to communicate problems directly to someone who knows what to do about them.

3. Never question the legitimacy of an employee's religious belief(s).

4. Always attempt to accommodate.

5. Encourage respectful religious expression.

6. Respect ALL religions.

Click to read the full report on religious discrimination in the workplace (PDF)

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