What Does “Religion” Mean Under Title VII?
Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 defines the term “religion” broady. It includes both organized, traditional religions (such as Christianity, Islam, Hinduism, Judaism, and Buddhism) as well as religious beliefs that are uncommon, new, or not part of a formal church or sect. Under Title VII, a practice is considered religious if it is done for religious reason, even if it may not be religious to another person. These beliefs and practices are protected even if they are a newly adopted practice, different from the commonly followed practices and beliefs of the religion, or not consistently observed. For example, some employees may not work on Sundays due to religious reasons; others may not work on Saturday due to religious reasons.
Some Common Religious Accommodations In The Workplace
Employees and even applicants can obtain exceptions to different policies or rules to follow their religious practices or beliefs under Title VII. Employers can grant accommodations for religious reasons, but can still deny them for secular reasons. Here are some common examples of accommodations in the workplace:
Dress Codes – employees may need exceptions to the dress and/or grooming code due to religious reasons, for example, Pentecostal Christian women who do not wear pants, Muslim women who wear religious hijabs (headscarfs), or Jewish men who wear a yarmulke (skullcap). In fact, the EEOC has a document titled “Religious Garb and Grooming in the Workplace: Rights and Responsibilities” to help employers and employees.
Schedule Changes – some employees need schedule changes so that they can attend church services, such as a Catholic employee needing to take off on Good Friday for church services. Other employees may need to have their schedules set so that they are off a specific day of the week, such as Saturday or Sunday, for religious reasons.
Religious Invocations In The Workplace – some employees may need to be excused from certain religious invocations that might happen in meetings or other work-related events, such as an atheist being excused from prayer at staff meetings due to their religious beliefs.
Religious Beliefs And Job Tasks – some employees may require a change in their tasks at work to accommodate their religious beliefs and practices. For example, a Jehovah’s Witness may need to change tasks at a warehouse or factory so they are not working on producing war weapons, or a Christian employee at a pharmacy may need to be excused from filling birth control prescriptions.
Breaks And Time Off – some employees may need breaks at certain times of the day or need time off due to religious reasons. For example, a Muslim employee may need breaks scheduled so that they can perform daily prayers at specific times and Native American employees may need unpaid time off to attend a ritual or ceremony for religious reasons.
Employers Are Required To Accommodate Religious Beliefs And Practices Of Employees
Under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, employers cannot discriminate based on a person’s religious preference. Title VII also includes discrimination based on refusing to accommodate a sincerely held religious practice or belief by any employee, unless this accommodation would impose an undue hardship on the business.
How Does An Employer Determine If Accommodations Impose An Undue Hardship?
There are many different ways that an employer determines the burdens on a business that are more than minimal (an undue hardship). These include: causing a lack of necessary staffing, violating a seniority system in place in the company, jeopardizing health or security, or costing the business more than a minimal amount. Infrequent overtime payments to employees who substitute shifts is not one of the areas considered an undue hardship, neither are customer preference or disgruntled co-workers and do not justify the denial of a religious accommodation.
There are ways that an employer and employee can work together on different aspects of accommodations. For example, if a change in the schedule would cause an undue hardship, the employer has to allow co-workers to voluntarily swap or substitute shifts to accommodate the religious practice or belief. If the employee cannot be accommodated in the position that they currently hold, transfer to another vacant position may be possible to help accommodate their religious beliefs.
If you are concerned about religious accommodations at your place of employment, please call our experienced attorney today for a free consultation at (918) 582 – 2500.
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