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What Constitutes Workplace Religious Discrimination?

Discrimination is defined as any form of harassment or insistence on participating (or not participating) in specific religious practices. Additionally, refusing to accommodate an employee’s religious beliefs or practices is not an option (unless the accommodation would impose a significant burden on the company’s operations).



Harassment of an employee based on his or her religious beliefs or practices, including offensive remarks, humiliation, or other offensive behavior. Dress and grooming are two of the religious practices in question. Insulting employees for their religious attire, such as headscarves or yarmulkes, or grooming habits, such as facial hair and hairstyles, is considered discriminatory.

To be clear, law does not prohibit innocent teasing, jokes, or offhand remarks. On the other hand, severe or repeated behavior of this nature degrades an employee’s dignity and contributes to the creation of a hostile work environment.

Because there is no definitive way to determine where the line should be drawn between what is considered offensive and what is not, it is best to avoid all types of jokes and comments about religious affiliation while at work.


Refusal to Take Religious Beliefs and Practices into Account

Microaggressions that are ostensibly invisible but are disguised as routine office practices and are directed at a person’s religious beliefs are also illegal.

In 2019, a Muslim woman sued Fast Track for discriminating against her on the basis of her religious practices. Shahin Indorewala, 26, requested two five-minute prayer breaks throughout her day. She offered to deduct the ten minutes from the two-hour lunch break that all employees are entitled to.

The prayer breaks would have occurred at the same time each day, avoiding future scheduling conflicts. Although her request did not appear to impose an unreasonable burden on the employer, it was denied, which qualifies as an act of religious discrimination.

Employers, on the other hand, are not required to accommodate an employee’s religious beliefs or practices if doing so would jeopardize their business’s operations. Employers are only required to make reasonable adjustments in accordance with the law. Modifications to the work schedule and voluntary shift swaps, as well as certain task reassignments, are typically considered reasonable adjustments. Conscientious objection to abortion, for example, is one such instance of job reassignment in some Christian physicians.

However, before an employer can be sued, the employee (or applicant) must notify the employer of their requirements. Dialogue between the employer and the employee/applicant must occur in order to provide the employer with sufficient time and information to consider alternative housing options.

If the employer (or, in the event of a lawsuit, the court) determines that the accommodation requirements are excessive, they are not required to comply. Employers may consider an accommodation to be too burdensome for a variety of reasons, including increased costs, safety concerns, or the risk of causing harm to other employees.


Recruitment, Termination, and Employment Practices

This type of discrimination occurs when an employer makes employment decisions (such as wrongful termination) based on an employee’s or applicant’s lack of faith. Employer behavior that is discriminatory may include the following:

  • Refusing to hire members of a particular religion.

  •  Possessing more stringent promotion requirements for adherents of a particular religion.

  • Imposing additional work requirements on an employee based on his or her religious beliefs or practices.