Posted By:

Trish Barnes on October 1, 2015

Religious Accommodations in The Workplace: What are Your Responsibilities?

Today’s globalized and diverse world has created a working environment where there’s often a melting pot of religious beliefs and affiliations. As a result, there are a growing number of religious accommodation requests and religious discrimination cases within the workforce. In fact, this is the third-fastest growing type of discrimination case — and the number of charges filed with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) has increased by nearly 50% since 1997.

As an employer, it’s your responsibility to ensure that your business stays compliant with relevant laws and regulations concerning religious accommodations and avoid discriminating against employees because of their religious beliefs. Here are some important details you need to know.


Title VII

Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 was enacted to prevent employers from discriminating against employees on several areas — one of which being religion. Under this law, employees must receive adequate accommodations to practice their religion as long as it doesn’t create any undue hardships for their employer. This basically means that as long as it doesn’t exceed a minimal burden on your business, you must provide accommodations even if an employee has only recently adopted their religion or if it’s infrequently observed.


Defining Religion

The waters become a little murky when coming up with a formal definition for “religion.” According to the EEOC, Title VII defines religion very broadly. It includes traditional, organized religions such as Christianity, Judaism, Islam, Hinduism and Buddhism. It also includes religious beliefs that are new, uncommon, not part of a formal church or sect, or only held by a small number of people.

As a result, it isn’t always easy to know which accommodations are based on religion and which are simply employee preferences. When you break it all down, “a practice is religious if the employee’s reason for the practice is religious.” For example, if an employee needs to have Sundays off to observe their Sabbath, this would be because of religious practice. However, if an employee wants to have Sundays off to spend time with family, this wouldn’t qualify.


Employer Responsibilities

Your primary responsibility is to provide religious accommodations to your employees. Some examples include:

  • Creating exceptions to your dress code policy if employees wear special attire to observe their religion
  • Granting time off to observe religious holidays
  • Excusing employees from religious-themed events such as Christmas parties

Another big responsibility is to never discriminate against employees based on their religious beliefs (e.g. firing someone because you don’t agree with their religious practices.) You must also ensure that employees aren’t victims of harassment. For example, you and other staff should never make comments that could be deemed as offensive.

Finally, you’re not allowed to segregate employees for a reason that’s based on their religion. An example would be moving someone from a front-of-house position to a back-of-house position because they wear certain religious garb. You can learn more about proper employee accommodations from the EEOC.

Due to the increasing number of religious discrimination claims against employers, this is a topic you’ll definitely want to familiarize yourself with. Doing so should prevent any unnecessary lawsuits and create a better overall working environment where employees are sensitive to one another’s religious beliefs.

Photo by The Urban Scot