Discrimination and harassment based on religion have never been far from the headlines since the 2016 Presidential election. From President Trump’s controversial “Muslim ban” to reports by the Southern Poverty Law Center showing that hate violence is on the rise, including aggression against religious minorities, much light has been shed on this problem in American society.
Given that our Michigan workplaces are not separate from the broader culture, religion-based employment discrimination may also be on the increase. There was this recent story, for example, of a Detroit-area teacher who was allegedly fired for wearing a hijab to work.
Employers Are Prohibited from Discriminating Against Workers and Job Applicants Based on Religion
Both federal and state laws are very clear when it comes to religious discrimination. Title VII of the Civil Rights Act prohibits discrimination based on race, color, sex, national origin – and religion. In Michigan, workers’ religious rights are also protected by the Elliott-Larsen Civil Rights Act.
These laws apply to both current Michigan employees as well as job candidates.
Three Main Forms of Religious Discrimination Recognized by the Law
Religious discrimination generally falls into three categories, any one of which could be the basis for a potential lawsuit against an employer. They are:
- Disparate Treatment: An employer cannot treat an employee differently from other workers simply because of his or her religion. As an example, an employer can’t discipline or fire someone simply because they are a member of a religious minority. Similarly, religion can’t be a factor in an employer’s decision to hire one job applicant over another.
- Hostile Work Environment: Employers must also ensure that workers are not subjected to workplace harassment because of their religion. This is often seen in cases where a worker is subjected to ongoing slurs and insults from coworkers as well as managers, supervisors or even company owners.
- Failure to Accommodate: By law, employers must make reasonable efforts to accommodate an employer’s religious practices. This can include allowing employees to wear head scarves and religious symbols or permitting time off for prayer and attending religious services. An employer can only deny a religious accommodation if it will cause undue hardship for the company, and the courts have typically applied a very high standard for such exceptions.
Any worker who has faced discrimination in the workplace because of his or her religious beliefs may have a claim under state or federal law and could be entitled to compensation. The best first step is to consult with a member of our Employment Litigation Group who can discuss the specifics of your situation. Contact us today!