The law may view an employee who is exposed to harassment or a disagreeable working situation because of his or her religious beliefs as a victim of religious discrimination. While offhand comments or incidents involving simple teasing are not considered unlawful, repeated offensive remarks about religious beliefs might be, especially when they create a hostile work environment. Claims for religious discrimination are normally filed in Federal Court, but in California, state law provides better protection for harassed workers due to its strong, clear language.
The many faces of religious discrimination
Derisive or hateful comments represent just one form of religious discrimination. Any aspect of employment may pose an issue, including hiring and firing practices, lack of promotion, salary disparity and markedly different job assignments. For example, an employer who is concerned about public perception may move a Muslim employee who wears a head scarf to a position where she will have no contact with customers. The Muslim woman who was moved out of the public eye may have a claim for religious discrimination unless her employer can prove that because of her head scarf, allowing her to interact with customers would have created undue hardship on the operation of the business.
Protection under the law
Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 prohibits employers from discriminating against employees on the basis of sex, race, color, national origin and religion. It prohibits job segregation and prejudice against certain kinds of attire worn or grooming customs followed because of religious reasons. However, many employees still bear the brunt of unfair practices.
Employers are required to provide reasonable accommodation for the religious practices of their workers by both federal and state law. However, the California statute requires companies to "explore any available reasonable alternative means of accommodating the religious belief or observance" of workers. The law also requires employers to make exceptions to company appearance standards in order to accommodate religious practices. While federal courts have given a softer interpretation to the matter that allows employers some leeway, California law is more pointed. The state has adopted a regulation stating that the term "reasonable accommodation" must be construed as completely eliminating any conflict between job duty and the religion of the employee.
Seeking legal help
In matters concerning reasonable accommodation for religious practices, California law requires proof that providing an employee with such accommodation would cause a "significant difficulty or expense" for the company, which is often difficult to do. The law protects those who have sincere religious, ethical or moral beliefs. If you feel that you have been a victim of religious discrimination, an attorney experienced with employment law is standing by to help.