8. What is discrimination on the basis of religion under Title VII?
Religious discrimination is intentional conduct or policies that treat or affect individuals differently based upon their religious beliefs or affiliations. This includes any of the intentional discrimination, such as failing to hire, firing, or allowing different benefits. An employer’s policy may have a discriminatory impact if it unduly affects certain employees’ ability to observe or practice their religion in the workplace. Employers must generally make “reasonable accommodations” for the religious needs or practices of their employees. The limitation on accommodating religious beliefs or practices is when it results in an “undue hardship” on the employer. Undue hardships generally result from a material disruption in job performance or business operations.
• Note: A well-founded exception to the religious accommodation rule is that religious organizations may discriminate in their employment practices on the basis of religion. This is a form of business necessity. For example, a church may refuse to hire a non-Christian based upon the difference in religious belief. This exception exists to accommodate the business purpose of religious organizations.
• Example: May’s religion requires her to wear a headdress. Her employer bans the wearing of any headwear during the workday. Unless the employer has a valid business necessity for limiting headdresses, the policy may violate May’s religious rights under Title VII. The court would examine whether allowing an exception for May would be an undue burden on the employer.
• Discussion: How do you feel about the protection of religious belief in the employment environment? What do you think about the standards for protection of employee religious needs or practices? Are you comfortable with a “reasonable accommodation” requirement? Why or why not? At what point do you believe a reasonable accommodation amounts to an undue hardship?
• Practice Question: Mohammad is an employee of ABC Corp and a practicing Muslim. His religious beliefs require that he take 15-minute breaks three times throughout the work day to pray. Mohammad is a retail sales employee. His prayer sessions require that he ask permission to leave the sales floor. What do you need to know to determine whether ABC Corp can limit Mohammad’s practices?