What to Do When Your Employer Won’t Accommodate Religious Practices

Mar 15, 2017
By Peter Friedmann

Identifying and resolving religious accommodation problems starts with understanding what type of religious protections the law provides for employees.  Ensuring that an employer meets its legal obligation to reasonably accommodate an employee’s religious beliefs and practices can be difficult. A great deal of this difficulty stems from the fact that what type and degree of accommodation counts as “reasonable” varies for each person, setting, and situation. For that reason, courts that hear religious discrimination cases decide each one on its own merits, meaning that no set rules spell out what constitute illegal and impermissible actions.

An open level of communication between the employer and the employee will help establish an equal understanding of the employee’s religious practices and any requested accommodation. That knowledge must inform a process of notification and negotiation to develop accommodations, as well as reporting potential violations of relevant federal and/or state laws. It is important that the employer be made aware of the religious practice at issue, in order for the employer to accommodate the employee. A well-developed process for answering questions related to religious accommodation exists, and both employers and employees can enlist advice and representation from a religious discrimination lawyer in Columbus, Ohio, while going through that process.

Understand Your Religious Rights as an Employee

Title VII of the federal Civil Rights Act of 1964 makes it illegal to discriminate against any employee or job applicant on the basis of religion. A nearly identical Ohio state statute provides the same protections to express one’s faith and engage in religious observations without losing a job or being denied a job opportunity. Specifically, and quoting directly from an Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) factsheet, religious beliefs and practices cannot be the principal reason for “hiring, firing, pay, job assignments, promotions, layoff, training, fringe benefits, and any other term or condition of employment.”

Importantly, employment laws cover both people who are extremely devout and atheists. Further, sincerely held personal, moral, and ethical beliefs merit the same protections and reasonable accommodations as do tenets of traditional religions.

Last, no employer can force workers or jobseekers to express certain beliefs or perform certain rituals as conditions of keeping or getting a job.

An Employee Must Work With His or Her Employer to Secure Accommodations

Employers and employees do not always agree on what it means to accommodate religious practices. State and federal laws acknowledge this reality by requiring engagement and negotiation.

The first step in that process involves the employee informing his or her supervisor of which religious accommodations are sought. Managers and executives can also be notified. Typical accommodations include

  • Time and privacy to pray during work hours
  • Time off for religious holidays and services
  • Exemptions from dress codes and appearance guidelines (e.g., no pants for women, beards for men, head coverings indoors)
  • Flex-time
  • Shift trading
  • Lateral transfers (i.e., same pay and responsibilities with different tasks)

It can help to get a Columbus religious discrimination law firm involved after an employee requests an accommodation and the employer is inclined to refuse to alter anything about the person’s job or worksite. Legally, a company, government agency, or nonprofit organization can decline a request for a religious accommodation if making changes would

  • Impose significant costs
  • Reduce productivity to a great extent
  • Put other employees at risk
  • Shift a large number of difficult or dangerous tasks to co-workers
  • Violate the terms of a collective bargaining agreement
  • Infringe on co-workers’ religious rights

Recognize Violations of Religious Protections

Refusing to engage with an employee when he or she asks for a religious accommodation may constitute employment discrimination. So may declining a request when the employer cannot prove that making the religious accommodation would have more than a minimal impact on the organization, its expenses and operations, or its other workers.

Other forms that religious discrimination in an employment context can take include

  • Constant and harsh harassment (e.g., insults, offensive jokes, threats)
  • Physical assault and mistreatment
  • Denial of job offers, promotions, raises, or benefits
  • Job segregation, which the EEOC defines as assigning tasks based on the idea that a worker’s religion would offend customers or co-workers

Consult With an Attorney

Anyone who believes he or she is being discriminated against based on religion should document each questionable incident as fully as possible. Concerns and evidence should then be presented to a religious discrimination lawyer in Columbus, who will have the experience and knowledge to assess the situation and offer legal options.

Seeking a knowledgeable opinion before filing an official complaint with an agency like the EEOC will help the employee understand if he or she has a case, what additional information may need to be gathered, and how to write a complaint so that it has the greatest chance of holding a discriminating employer accountable.

You can schedule a confidential, no-cost consultation with an attorney from the Friedman Firm by calling 614.610.9755 or filling out this online contact form. As a religious discrimination law firm in Columbus, we ensure full compliance with all federal and state employment laws.