6 Tips for Employers When Facing Requests For Religious Exemptions

by Chasity C. Bruno

In recent years, the number of complaints filed with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission regarding religious discrimination has dramatically increased.

According to the EEOC, there were 1,709 complaints of religious discrimination in 1997 and 3,721 complaints in 2013.

Employers with 15 or more employees need to be cognizant that Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 protects employees’ and job applicants’ rights to observe their religion through dress and grooming.

Title VII prohibits employers with at least 15 employees (including private sector, state, and local government employers), as well as employment agencies, unions, and federal government agencies, from discriminating in employment based on race, color, religion, sex, or national origin. It also prohibits retaliation against persons who complain of discrimination or participate in an EEOC investigation.

Prohibitions when it comes to religion

With respect to religion, Title VII prohibits among other things:

  • Disparate treatment based on religion in recruitment, hiring, promotion, benefits, training, job duties, termination, or any other aspect of employment (except that “religious organizations” as defined under Title VII are permitted to prefer members of their own religion in deciding whom to employ);
  • Denial of reasonable accommodation for sincerely held religious practices, unless the accommodation would cause an undue hardship for the employer;
  • Workplace or job segregation based on religion;
  • Workplace harassment based on religion;
  • Retaliation for requesting an accommodation (whether or not granted), for filing a discrimination charge with the EEOC, for testifying, assisting, or participating in any manner in an EEOC investigation or EEOC proceeding, or for opposing discrimination.

It is evident that our country’s workforce has become more diverse. With that being said, it is imperative that employers provide their managers and supervisors with appropriate training in regard to exceptions to their company’s normal rules on dress and grooming in the workplace.

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