How to Accommodate Religion in the Workplace
By Joshua C. Black, Esq.
Religious accommodations in the workplace are something many businesses must address to ensure a safe and inclusive work environment. Equality for religious groups in a place of business is even protected by law.
Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 prohibits employment discrimination based on many things, including religion. Refusal to accommodate an employee’s sincerely held religious beliefs or practices is explicitly against the Civil Rights Act, unless these modifications would impose an undue hardship on the operation of the business.
The Civil Rights protection can be extended to guard against adverse employment actions, too, such as reprimands or termination if an employee has to miss work due to an important religious event. Title VII can also prevent job applicants from being overlooked based on their religious beliefs.
Which religions are protected?
Title VII defines religion very broadly and includes traditional, organized religions such as Christianity, Judaism, Islam, Hinduism and Buddhism. However, it also includes religious beliefs that are new, uncommon or not part of a formal church.
What modifications are business owners required to make?
Employers are obligated to accommodate the religious beliefs and practices of all employees under the law. For many organizations, this includes making adaptations for those who need time off for a holy day. Other examples of common religious accommodations in the workplace might include:
Exceptions to the company's dress code for a religious practice. For example, Pentecostal Christian women typically do not wear pants or short skirts. Muslim women often wear a religious headscarf called a hijab and Jewish men frequently wear a head covering called a yarmulke. Even if these items are not part of a company’s uniform, based on the rights protected by Title VII, employees are permitted to don these items at work.
Modified schedules to attend church services on holy days that fall during the work week, such as Good Friday for Catholic employees or Yom Kippur for those of Jewish faith.
Altered job responsibility may be in order, too. Adjustments such as a Christian pharmacy employee being excused from filling birth control prescriptions, or a Jehovah's Witness changing job tasks at a factory so he will not have to work on producing war weapons, are likely acceptable requests for religious purposes.
As with most work situations, communication and transparency are the key to success. Employees should provide as much advanced notice as possible to a business owner or manager if they need special religious accommodations – whether that is for a uniform modification, job reassignment or time off for a holy day.
Discrimination of any kind can lead to a hostile work environment and ultimately can affect employees’ performance as well as their mental health and wellbeing. Disgruntled employees can have a negative impact on a business’ success in the end.
If an employer or employee is unsure what constitutes a "sincerely held religious belief" or would like further information about how to address such a situation in the workplace, contact the Law Office of Joshua Black, PLC, at (623) 738-2225.