Religious Discrimination in the Workplace: An Often Overlooked Protected Category

The United States is filled with people of different faiths and religious backgrounds. Because of this, there is always potential for someone to be singled out and treated unfairly due to their religious beliefs. However, under federal law, specifically Title VII of the Civil Rights Act, it is unlawful for an employer to discriminate against a person on the basis of their religious beliefs. Even though religious discrimination is outlawed, it is often an overlooked aspect of Title VII. Because of its obscurity it is worth taking a more detailed look at how federal law protects employees from religious discrimination.

Religious discrimination defined

This type of discrimination occurs when someone is treated differently because of their religious beliefs. Federal law protects all religions, so whether you are a Christian, Buddhist, Muslim, Wiccan, or any religion whatsoever, you are protected against religious discrimination. Additionally, you can receive protection if you are not of a certain religion but are treated differently because you associate with people of that religion or are married to someone of that religion.

Where it applies

Federal law forbids religious discrimination when it comes to nearly every aspect of employment, whether it be hiring, firing, layoffs, training, perks, benefits or any other condition of employment.

Reasonable accommodations for religion

In addition to protecting someone from being treated differently because of their religion, the law requires that an employer make reasonable accommodations for a person’s religious practices. For example, an employer must give someone time to pray during the day if his or her religion so requires it. Such an accommodation cannot place an undue hardship on the business or employer, but if it can be met with a minimal burden, it must be given.

Religious discrimination and segregation

An employer cannot segregate or assign an employee to a certain area in order to cut them off from customers or client contact. Even if there is a feared customer preference regarding the employees religion; an employer cannot segregate an individual based on their beliefs.

Forced religious activities

Many may not realize that employees are also protected from being forced into religious activities by their employers. An employee cannot be forced to participate in religious activities while at work. For example, this law applies to group prayers or other religiously connected activities. Such forced participation is unlawful and an employee must be allowed to excuse themselves from participation and not be retaliated against for it.


Under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act it is unlawful for an employer to discriminate against an employee on the basis of their religion or their association with people of a certain religion. This protection applies to hiring, firing and all of the conditions of employment. Additionally, an employer must provide reasonable accommodations for a persons religious practices where it does not amount to an undue hardship upon the employer.

This article was first published on the Network on 4/1/2014.