Religious Discrimination

Federal law prohibits companies with more than 15 employees from discriminating on the basis of a job applicant’s or an employee’s religion or religious belief (or non-belief). The Civil Rights Act of 1964 prohibits an employer from basing a decision to hire, fire, pay, give job assignments, promote, layoff, train, alter benefits, and any other condition of employment on religion. New York State and New York City law also prohibit religious discrimination by employers with more than 4 employees.

In addition, if requested, employers must make reasonable accommodation for an employee’s religious belief and practice unless doing so would cause undue hardship to the employer’s business. Reasonable accommodation can include changes to the work environment, work schedule, dress or grooming to enable an employee to practice his religion.

How do I know if I’m a victim of religious discrimination?

Religious discrimination can be subtle, and each case is dependent on its particular facts. Situations where employers may be using religion as a factor in employment decisions might include:

  • You have received stellar job performance reviews until your supervisor finds out you are Muslim. You are soon thereafter told that your position is being eliminated.
  • You apply for a job, and after telling you that you are the most qualified person he has seen, the interviewer comments that a particular sect of Christianity is “unchristian.” You tell him you are of that faith. You don’t get the job.
  • You are Jewish, and you ask your employer if you can take days off to observe the High Holidays. She refuses your request, even though there are plenty of employees who could cover for you.
  • You are an atheist. Your supervisor starts all meetings with a prayer. You ask to be excused from this part of the meeting; your request is denied.
  • You have performed your job well and are scheduled for a promotion. Your new supervisor is Evangelical Christian; you are Catholic. Your supervisor gives the promotion to a less qualified, less senior Evangelical Christian.

I think I have a religious discrimination problem:

  • Act quickly—there is a limited amount of time for you to take legal action.
  • If you were fired and received severance, check the severance agreement to make sure you didn’t waive your rights to claim discrimination. (Even if you did, the waiver may not be valid).
  • Gather written reviews and other documents proving your performance quality, as well as your employee manual, if published.
  • Get in touch with an experienced employment lawyer.

Changes may occur in this area of law. The information provided is brought to you as a public service with the help and assistance of volunteer legal editors, and is intended to help you better understand the law in general. It is not intended to be legal advice regarding your particular problem or to substitute for the advice of a lawyer.

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