Under both federal and state law, discrimination on the basis of religion in any aspect of employment is illegal. One example of employment discrimination in the workplace was illustrated late last month, when the Equal Opportunity Employment Commission sued a coal mining company in West Virginia. The company began requiring all employees to use a biometric hand scanner to track their hours.
One employee who had been with the company 35 years had a religious objection to biometric scanners. He was an evangelical Christian and believed there was a relationship between those technologies and the mark of the beast in the New Testament book of Revelation. According to the Bible, the mark of the beast is implanted in the forehead or the right hand, and symbolizes allegiance to the antichrist.
When the employee voiced his objections to the technology, the employer failed to make adequate accommodations for him. However, the company did accommodate two employees who were unable to use the technology because they were missing fingers. According to the lawsuit, the man was forced into early retirement because of his issue with the technology.
By law, religious discrimination means treating a job applicant or an employee unfavorably because of his or her religious beliefs. This discrimination could occur in any aspect of employment, including hiring, firing, benefits, pay, work assignments, layoffs, promotions, or any other condition of employment. Harassment on the job on the basis of religion is also prohibited. The harassment must be serious enough to create a hostile work environment – a one-time joke or comment does not rise to the level of harassment.
The laws do not only protect members of traditional, organized religions, such as the man in this case, but also anyone who has a sincerely held religious, ethical or moral belief. Therefore, the laws could apply to Muslims, Christians, Jews and Buddhists, but also to Rastafarians, Scientologists, atheists or members of any religion that would be considered not mainstream.
Some examples of religious discrimination in the workplace would include:
– Firing a woman who refuses to cut her hair (which violates her religious beliefs), because she works around food, when she could easily be allowed to wear a hair net;
– Refusing to allow a Muslim to take breaks to pray multiple times per day, although it would not cause a hardship to the employer; and
– Refusing to allow a Jewish person to miss a day of work during a religious holiday.
Although employers are not legally allowed to discriminate based on religion, they also don’t have to accommodate every one of an employee’s requests based on religion. Instead, an employer is only required to reasonably accommodate an employee’s religious beliefs or practices, unless it would pose an undue hardship on the employer’s operation of its business. For example, if a Muslim worked as an air traffic controller in a very small airport, and needed to stop to pray multiple times per day, that could pose a hardship to the employer if there weren’t other controllers who could handle the landings.
At Liberty Law, Micha Star Liberty believes that no employee should suffer through religious discrimination at work, especially if it can be easily avoided. If you feel that you have been discriminated against at work on the basis of your religion, call Micha Star Liberty, Oakland employment law attorney, at 415-896-1000 or 510-645-1000. She works with clients throughout the Oakland – San Francisco area, and she will be happy to talk you through all the potential claims you may have against the employer. Call today to learn more.