Religious freedom is a fundamental right to which all individuals are entitled. That said, it is of utmost importance that the right be protected–even in the workplace.
The U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) notes that religious discrimination involves “treating a person (an applicant or employee) unfavorably because of his or her religious beliefs.” However, many people may not know or realize exactly what constitutes religious discrimination, particularly in a work environment.
What is Religious Discrimination?
Generally, there are two kinds of religious discrimination: “disparate treatment” discrimination and “disparate impact” discrimination. Disparate treatment discrimination typically occurs when religion is used as an employer’s primary or motivating factor in taking adverse action against an employee. Disparate impact discrimination takes place when the employer’s so-called equitable practices and/or policies have a considerably negative impact on a religious group. Both Ohio law and federal law protect employees from religious-based firings, demotions, or denial of benefits.
The Employer’s Obligation to Accommodate Employees
Employees who follow recognized faiths have rights with respect to receiving reasonable accommodations permitting them to abide by their various religious doctrines. The laws call for employers to provide such accommodations, unless doing so would be unduly burdensome on the business. For instance, an employer may permit individuals who wish to wear dreads to do so in accordance with their Rastafarian beliefs, or the employer might permit religious head coverings to be worn. Additionally, the employer might allow a worker to attend services during the day, if it is part of his or her religious practices.
Harassment Because of One’s Religious Affiliation
Employees should also be aware that it is unlawful for them to be subjected to harassment on the basis of their religion. Such acts of harassment can include offensive comments or remarks about an individual’s religious practices or beliefs. Employees should note, however, occasional teasing and/or isolated incidents of harassment are not prohibited under the law. Still, the harassment can quickly become illegal if it is done so frequently or if it is of such severity it causes a hostile environment on the job or results in some type of unfavorable employment decision, such as a demotion or a discharge.
Retaliation By an Employer
Workers should make note that state and federal laws do not allow employers to retaliate against employees who take part in protected activities. Employees should understand their employers are prohibited under the law from demoting, firing, disciplining or taking any other type of unfavorable actions against them, should they discuss their grievances with respect to their rights being infringed upon.
Religious discrimination can come in a variety of forms, some of which may be difficult for an employee to recognize right away. Accordingly, if you believe you or someone you love has been discriminated against in the workplace based on religious beliefs, contact a Cincinnati employment attorney at the Law Offices of Robert A. Klingler as soon as possible.