Whether working from home or in a traditional office setting, employers must provide certain religious accommodations. Title VIII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 mandates that an employee’s request be honored with reasonable accommodations, providing they do not cause undue hardship, or more than a minimal burden, on business operations. This pairs with the prohibition that employers cannot exclude candidates or terminate employees on the basis or religion.
These accommodations cover a variety of concerns, from clothing to time away for observance. Even if a practice is not commonplace, the employee is entitled to have this request met providing it does not:
- Overturn seniority systems
- Jeopardize security or health
- Cause a staffing shortage
- Cost beyond a minimal amount to the employer
What is Covered Under the Accommodations?
Religious accommodations cover anything related to the practice of faith. For physical appearance, this includes headwear, hair, facial grooming, and clothing, among other things. Employees can request to not handle specific duties if it violates their beliefs. They can also request time off for observance, either during the workday or on a specific holy day. Likewise, a non-observer or atheist can request to not participate in any religious-based activities. Beyond these accommodations, religious-based harassment or job segregation is illegal.
How Should Employees Request Accommodations?
New employees should mention requests for religious accommodations when applying to a position or starting a new one. This allows employers more time to create a solution and determine if it will create an undue hardship. Some employers offer a form to fill out, so the request is on file and goes through the proper channels.
If the requested accommodations do not create an undue hardship, they must be approved. An employer can offer alternatives if the request creates a hardship or request more information before deciding. Employees should always offer as much information as possible or engage in constructive dialogue to further educate, especially if a religion or practice is not commonly known or observed.
How can Employees Challenge an Accommodation Refusal?
If an employee feels a religious accommodation request has been wrongly refused and the employer will not reconsider, there are legal remedies. In New Jersey, employees can bring the case before the state’s Division on Civil Rights (DCR) or the federal Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC). Companies with 14 employees or less must be brought before the DCR as the EEOC only hears cases involving employers with 15 or more employees.
The DCR action must be filed within 180 days of the discriminating incident. However, if the DCR finds no probable cause, or a lack of evidence to support the claim, the case may not proceed to a court of law. Discrimination cases may also go before the New Jersey Superior Court, as opposed to the DCR or on appeal of their decision if possible. The initial filing with the Superior Court must be within two years of the incident occurring. If the DCR or courts side with the complainant, the employee is entitled to any or all the following:
- Restoration of employment and any eligible benefits
- Back pay with interest
- Damages for pain and humiliation
- Reasonable attorney’s fees if represented
- Any out-of-pocket costs associated with pursuing the case
If filed in Superior Court, employees may also receive punitive damages. The employer may also have to pay fines levied by the state.
South Jersey Employment Lawyers at The Law Offices of Leo B. Dubler, III, LLC Assist Victims of Religious Discrimination in the Workplace
The South Jersey employment lawyers at The Law Offices of Leo B. Dubler, III, LLC are ready to assist in your religious discrimination case. You are entitled to reasonable accommodation for your faith and practices. Call us at 856-235-7075 or contact us online for a free consultation. With offices in Mount Laurel and Atlantic City, New Jersey, we serve clients throughout South Jersey, including Cherry Hill, Burlington County, and Camden County.