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What is religious discrimination?

It's hard to know when your right to religious freedom is being hindered at work. This is particularly true if you aren't sure what the difference is between an ordinary work restriction and an act of religious discrimination.

In order to better protect your religious freedom, learn more about what discrimination looks like and how the law defines it.

Religious accommodation isn't an absolute guarantee.

One of the most frequently confused issues surrounds the idea of religious accommodation in the workplace. You generally have a right to ask for reasonable accommodations in order to practice your religion even while you are at work. However, what you see as reasonable may not be reasonable to others.

For example, your religion may encourage you to proselytize to others. Unfortunately, that may put you at odds with co-workers whose religions take a different approach. Your employer would be justified in requiring you to limit your activities to outside the workplace.

Your employer has a right to restrict accommodations based on the idea that they present too much of a burden on the business. You can still practice your religion, but you may have to adapt to the demands of the business on some practical level.

For example, Muslim women who wear a headscarf can generally do so if there's no reason that wearing one would be burdensome to the employer. If headscarves are somehow a safety hazard, however, your employer would be justified to restrict headscarves.

Religious discrimination can be overt or subtle.

Most cases of religious discrimination end up focused on the details of a situation in order to determine what's really happening. Because religious discrimination can be subtle, any investigation into the situation has to look for patterns of behavior.

For example, religious discrimination could manifest as hiring or promotion decisions that favor people of only one religion or only treat those of a specific religion harshly. Comments mocking someone's religion (or lack thereof) are signs of religious discrimination.

So is refusing to hire someone because he or she needs a religious accommodation like time off for Jewish holidays or permission to wear a hijab. If an employer tolerates abuse or harassment from one employee to another on the basis of religion, that's also discrimination.

If you're uncertain if a specific issue is religious discrimination or not, legal counsel can help you decide and explore your options.

Source: FindLaw, "Examples of Religious Discrimination in the Workplace," accessed Feb. 23, 2018

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