Providing Breaks to Employees for Religious-Based Reasons
The First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution, as well as Article II of the Massachusetts Constitution, provides for the right to exercise one’s religion. In practical terms, this means that no governmental entity can prevent an individual from practicing the tenets of his/her religion. And, in many cases, both federally and within the Commonwealth of Massachusetts, this prohibition has been imposed on employers, requiring them to provide for accommodations for the practice of religion by their employees. If an employer declines to comply, retaining the services of an experienced civil rights attorney may be necessary to ensure that this right is not infringed upon. Recently, in Colorado, a $1.5 million settlement was agreed to between workers and their employer, who terminated the worker’s employment after they protested the refusal of the company to provide prayer breaks so that the workers could practice the tenets of their Islamic faith. A discussion of the law in this area, and what to do if a person believes his/her right to religious exercise has been infringed, will follow below.
Religious Discrimination in the Workplace
Various federal laws, including the Civil Rights Act of 1964, serve to protect individuals from discrimination based on religion. More specifically, Title VII of the 1964 Act makes it illegal for an employer to discriminate against individuals because of their religion in hiring, firing, and other terms and conditions of employment, such as promotions, raises, and other job opportunities. Additionally, Title VII also requires employers to reasonably accommodate the religious practices of an employee or prospective employee, unless to do so would create an undue hardship upon the employer. Such reasonable accommodations include flexible scheduling, voluntary substitutions, job reassignments, and lateral transfers, as well as providing accommodations for an employee to practice his/her religious beliefs.
The term “religion” includes all aspects of religious observance and practice, as well as belief. Further, religion does not have to be a traditional religion such as Buddhism, Christianity, Hinduism, Islam, or Judaism. Rather, religion may be a completely unique set of beliefs, although those beliefs must be sincere and meaningful. It is important to note that social, political, or economic philosophies, as well as mere personal preferences, are not considered religious beliefs protected by Title VII.
Finally, it is important to note that the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission is the federal agency responsible for investigating charges of job discrimination related to religious discrimination or lack of accommodation in workplaces of 15 or more employees
Examples of Religious Discrimination
In addition to the refusal to provide prayer accommodation in the Colorado matter cited above, the following are other examples of an employer’s failure to provide reasonable accommodation for an employee’s religious practices:
- Requiring an employee to work on a religious holiday, including prohibiting another employee from switching vacation days;
- Requiring an applicant to interview on a religious holiday;
- Prohibiting an employee from adhering to his/her religion’s dietary guidelines; and
- Allowing an atmosphere in the workplace in which an employee’s religion is continually denigrated.
Additionally, the following are further examples of religious discrimination, although not directly related to the providing reasonable accommodation:
- Declining to hire an applicant solely due to his/her religious beliefs; and
- Demoting, not considering for promotion, or terminating an employee solely due to his/her religious beliefs.
Seek Legal Advice
If you had your right of the exercise of religion infringed upon, contact the experienced civil rights attorneys at Leontire & Associates, P.C. as soon as possible. We have experience in dealing with various civil rights issues, including discrimination on the basis of religion. Our knowledge and experience will allow us to thoroughly analyze your situation, and, if we believe that your situation indicates religious discrimination, we will strategize to ensure you get the result you deserve. Contact our Boston office today.