Religious discrimination has become a hot topic in recent months as more and more news stories highlight adverse situations people encounter while living and working in New York and throughout the country. During a time when the public is witnessing what appears to be an increase in hate crimes, desecration of religious symbols, and threats to houses of worship, it is important to consider what may also be happening in the workplace.
In the workplace, discrimination against an employee or job applicant because of his or her religion is unlawful. Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 (Title VII) is the federal law that prohibits employment discrimination based on a person’s religion or religious beliefs. Title VII covers employers with 15 or more employees. New York State and New York City laws also prohibit religious discrimination in employment, and these laws apply to employers with 4 or more employees.
An employee has the legal right to request a reasonable workplace accommodation for religious purposes. An employer has a duty to consider the request and accommodate the employee if it does not cause undue hardship to the business.
Like all employment discrimination, religious discrimination happens in a variety of ways. Disparate treatment, disparate impact, and harassment because of an individual’s religion are unlawful.
Disparate treatment is when an employer mistreats someone, refuses to hire or terminates employment because of his or her religious beliefs, practices or stereotypes.
Disparate impact discrimination is when a business has a seemingly neutral policy or practice that adversely affects one religion. For example, a company-wide policy forbidding head coverings might negatively impact Jewish or Muslim employees.
Harassment because of someone’s religion may also be unlawful employment discrimination. Slurs, jokes, nasty comments, questions, and threats may all be part of harassing behavior.
Under New York State Human Rights Law, it is also unlawful to discriminate against an employee or applicant based on their association with a person who has particular religious beliefs or practices. In other words, if you are a Christian employee and are married to a Muslim, discrimination, and harassment based on your relationship is prohibited.
Refusing to make a reasonable accommodation for an employee who requests one may amount to unlawful discrimination. Retaliating against a worker for making such a request or trying to enforce his or her rights under federal, state or city law is also prohibited.
There have been many workplace religious discrimination claims filed in recent years. Right here in New York City in January 2017, workers for a contractor at JFK Airport alleged that they experienced religious discrimination because they are Muslim. Some of these cases have resulted in significant settlements for employees. The outcome of employment-related religious discrimination claims may have far-reaching effects on workplace behavior, hopefully for the better.
One such case involved Lakhbir Singh, a Sikh man who faced a serious dilemma when J.B. Hunt Transportation Services, Inc. demanded that he remove his turban and cut some of his hair for a mandatory drug test. It is against the Sikh religion to use drugs, cut one’s hair, and to remove one’s turban in public. Singh and two other men requested reasonable accommodations which the company refused to provide. A fourth man declined to remove his turban before providing a urine sample and was also denied an accommodation. The men filed a religious discrimination charge with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC).
According to US News and World Report, when Singh attended orientation for the job, he offered to provide a hair sample from his comb, but the company insisted that clipping the hair was necessary. Ariela Gross, a law professor at the University of Southern California, stated that “Where they’re requiring them to cut a piece of their hair for drug testing it seems odd they wouldn’t accept other types of testing alternatives.”
The loss of Singh’s job hit his family hard, and he allegedly struggled for years to find full-time employment. As part of a settlement J.B. Hunt conditionally offered Singh and the other three men, employment with the trucking company which, according to the EEOC, the men are not seeking.
J.B. Hunt agreed to pay $260,000, an amount the victims will split. Although the employer did not admit liability, the company “agreed to offer drug testing alternatives to accommodate religious beliefs, revised its anti-discrimination policies and said it would train employees on hiring practices.”
The New York City Bar provides the following examples of what may constitute religious discrimination in the workplace:
If you have experienced workplace discrimination because of your religious beliefs, dress, customs or practices, consider speaking with the employment law attorneys at Leeds Brown Law, P.C. Our firm has spent decades representing clients in the New York metropolitan area who experience employment discrimination of all types. Our lawyers take pride in providing personal service, while aggressively representing your best interests.
You may reach New York employment discrimination attorneys at Leeds Brown 24/7 by calling 1-800-585-4658 for a free consultation.