What could constitute religious discrimination?

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Posted by Legal Team On August 15, 2022

As with practically any type of discrimination, religious discrimination is not always easy to prove. It might also not apply to small businesses.

In California, workers are discriminated against every day due to their gender, sexual orientation, race, age and/or religion, to list a few categories. However, it can be difficult sometimes to tell if something is unlawful, and this article looks at some examples of what could be religious discrimination.

Denying someone his or her due

Denying someone a pay raise, promotion, benefits and the like due to his or her religion can be clear-cut discrimination. Some businesses make it easy to prove a case when people such as supervisors make explicit statements that explain why someone is not getting a pay raise. Others do not, though.

Suppose a manager likes team members to join him or her in Christian prayer every morning, and two members refuse. They do not get promotions for many years the way other members do. Depending on the available evidence, it could be that the refusal to forego prayer meetings has resulted in religious discrimination.

Not making accommodations

An area that can be gray is accommodations due to religious beliefs. Many businesses operate on the Christian calendar. That is, they are closed for Christmas and other holidays but not for Jewish or Muslim holidays. If they deny their workers time off during their preferred holidays, that could very well be religious discrimination.

As with many things, though, the details matter. If the business is tiny and has only one or two employees, it may not be able to be flexible about scheduling. In fact, the Civil Rights Act, which disallows various forms of discrimination, including religious, applies only to businesses that have 15 or more employees. Also, religious organizations may have more leeway in what they are legally obligated to do. For instance, a Christian agency may be allowed to give hiring priority to Christian applicants, but it cannot, say, automatically disqualify applicants who have names generally associated with other religions.

Persistent teasing and harassment

A religious joke told once or twice might not constitute harassment. However, when it turns into something persistent, it may cross the line into harassment and discrimination. Employees should document everything they can: times, dates, places, witnesses and what exactly was said and done.

What if the employer questions the need for accommodation?

Employees who need accommodations due to religious beliefs should notify their employers so that a solution can be worked out. However, some employers do ask the employee questions about the religious belief. Sometimes, the questions arise from a genuine desire to verify that the religious belief is real, and a business is legally able to conduct a restricted inquiry. However, if an employer repeatedly or hostilely questions the need for accommodation, that could constitute discrimination.

Religious discrimination is a real problem at many California businesses. An attorney may be able to help employees who feel its brunt.