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Religion and Employment

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Typically, the issue of religious discrimination arises in the workplace. Employers are required to accommodate an employee's religious beliefs under federal law. However, the employee's beliefs must be sincere.

The U.S. Supreme Court defines sincere beliefs as "moral or ethical beliefs, as to what is right and wrong which are sincerely held with the strength of traditional religious views." The belief does not have to be generally accepted, consistent, comprehensible or logical to fit the definition. However, a personal preference is not a religious belief. Courts ascertain sincerity by assessing the employee's credibility.

Sidebar: To prove religious discrimination, the employee must show:

  • a bona fide or sincere religious belief;
  • the religious practices conflict with an employment duty or function;
  • the employer has been informed of the beliefs and subsequent conflict; and
  • he or she was threatened, discharged, demoted or suffered an adverse job action.

If an employee brings a claim of religious discrimination, the employer always has the burden to prove that an accommodation is an undue hardship in order to defeat the claim. However, the employee has a duty to make an effort to cooperate in implementing the accommodation.

Accommodations include a work schedule that allows for worship on a specific day, wearing of specific clothing or headdress, absences to attend meetings or conventions or making another position available. If the accommodation poses an undue hardship to the employer, it is not required.

Do I need to inform my employer of my religious beliefs?

Only if you want an accommodation based on your religious practices and customs.

I need to be free in the mornings to practice my religious beliefs. My employer has moved me to the night shift to accommodate me. Can I ask for a different accommodation?

No. The night shift is reasonable, and you are under a duty to make an effort to cooperate.

Can I be forced to accept a transfer to a position of lesser pay if my current position conflicts with my religious practices?

Yes. Your employer's offer to transfer you may be reasonable. For instance, if your current position requires Saturday work yet your religion forbids it, you must accept the new job although the pay is less since you are not working on Saturdays.

One of my employees wants to post invitations to church services with an antigay theme. Am I required to allow the invitations to be posted?

No. Although the employee is attempting to practice his or her religious beliefs, accommodating him or her by allowing him or her to display antigay materials creates an undue hardship on the employer by conflicting with diversity in the workplace policies.

Sidebar: An accommodation that is an undue hardship requires an employer to:

  • show a burden on other employees by requiring them to work undesirable hours or shifts;
  • how a more than minimal cost in dollars or efficiency; and
  • violate seniority provisions of collective bargaining agreements.