Religious discrimination is unlawful pursuant to Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and the California Fair Employment and Housing Act. Religious discrimination occurs when a job applicant or employee is treated unfavorably based on his or her religious beliefs. The law protects individuals who belong to traditional, organized religions, such as Christianity, Islam, and Judaism, as well as any other sincerely held religious, ethical or moral beliefs. Courts have also held that religious discrimination can occur when someone is treated differently because they are married to or friends with another person who belongs to a particular religion.
As with other forms of employment discrimination, California state and federal law prohibit discrimination in all aspects of employment, including hiring, firing, compensation, job assignments, and any other term or condition of employment.
Although religious-based discrimination and harassment can include offensive remarks, employees are sometimes surprised to learn that employers can’t usually be held liable for isolated incidents and/or simple teasing or offhand comments. Harassment is illegal, however, when it becomes so frequent or severe that it creates a hostile work environment or when it results in an adverse employment decision (such as being fired or demoted).
In addition, employees cannot be forced to participate in a religious activity as a condition of employment.
Reasonable Accommodations for Religious Purposes
The law requires an employer or other covered entity to reasonably accommodate an employee’s religious beliefs or practices, unless doing so would cause more than a minimal burden on the operations of the employer’s business. This means an employer may be required to make reasonable adjustments to the work environment that will allow an employee to practice his or her religion.
Religious Dress Policies
Unless it would be an undue hardship on the employer’s operation of its business, an employer must reasonably accommodate an employee’s religious beliefs or practices. This applies not only to schedule changes or leave for religious observances, but also to such things as dress or grooming practices that an employee has for religious reasons. These might include, for example, wearing particular head coverings or other religious dress (such as a Jewish yarmulke or a Muslim headscarf), or wearing certain hairstyles or facial hair (such as Rastafarian dreadlocks or Sikh uncut hair and beard). It also includes an employee’s observance of a religious prohibition against wearing certain garments (such as pants or miniskirts).
When an employee or applicant needs a dress or grooming accommodation for religious reasons, the employee should notify the employer that they needs such an accommodation for religious reasons. If the employer reasonably needs more information, the employer and the employee should engage in an interactive process to discuss the request. If it would not pose an undue hardship, the employer must grant the accommodation.
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