Federal and state laws protect employees from religious discrimination when it comes to hiring, firing, pay, job assignments, promotions, and other terms and conditions of employment. Under Title VII, employers typically are required to accommodate an individual’s sincerely held religious beliefs, practices, and observances unless doing so would impose an “undue hardship” on the employer. One of the primary agencies with jurisdiction over religious discrimination and accommodation claims is the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC), which is authorized to investigate allegations of discrimination and issue probable cause findings.
Recently, the EEOC updated is compliance manual with respect to religious discrimination and accommodation. While the manual does not have the force of law, it provides insight for employees and employers regarding how the EEOC will view certain requests for religious accommodations and the employer’s response. The manual, which had not been updated since 2008, contains numerous changes and points of emphasis that may be important to employees concerned that their religious beliefs have not been adequately accommodated or who believe they have been discriminated against because of their religious beliefs.
Religious Discrimination May Include Discrimination Against Secular Beliefs
The manual has long held that religious discrimination may occur against individuals with secular beliefs, but this update of the manual makes this a point of emphasis. Specifically, it states that “individuals who do not practice any religion are also protected from discrimination on the basis of religion or lack thereof.” For example, and with few exceptions, employers cannot refuse to promote you on the sole basis that you do not have certain religious beliefs, even if the leadership of your company and the vast majority of your colleagues have such beliefs.
An Interactive Process for Religious Accommodation?
Unlike the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), which has been interpreted to require employers and employees to go through an “interactive process” regarding disability accommodations, such process has never been required with respect to requests for religious accommodations. This update, however, cautions employers that failure to go through the interactive process can have adverse legal consequences. This is especially the case when an employer attempts to argue that the accommodation would pose an “undue hardship.” If the employer makes no effort to act on an accommodation request, the EEOC cautions that will be difficult to convince the EEOC or a court that doing so would cause an “undue hardship.”
Examples of Religious Discrimination
The manual also provides new examples of situations in which the EEOC may find discrimination in circumstances where an employer has not provided a religious accommodation. If you have been discriminated against based on your religion, or your religious belief has not been accommodated, please contact our Minnesota employment attorneys to discuss whether you may have a legal claim.