Religious discrimination under Title VII

“Religious liberty might be supposed to mean that everybody is free to discuss religion. In practice it means that hardly anybody is allowed to mention it.” ― G.K. Chesterton

That comment may be a bit extreme, but it has a kernel of truth in the workplace.  In light of the upheaval this week over Quran burning and Muslim and Christian tensions, Title VII employers should remember that they must not allow religion to become a workplace issue. Employers spend a lot of time training to guard against race and sex discrimination, but they may not spend enough time monitoring other protected classes. The federal Civil Rights Act prohibits an employer from discriminating against employees on the basis of religion. This can be by harassment, failure to provide reasonable accommodation, or adverse employment action.

Employers cannot hire, fire, discipline, or require different or stricter requirements because of religious beliefs. A hostile environment can occur if there is pervasive, unwelcome conduct motivated by religious belief that results in an intimidating or offensive workplace.

Sometimes an employer must balance the interests of those who wish to proselytize or openly perform a religious act with those who are offended. Employers can accommodate those offended by excusing them from certain work requirements or alternating breaks so that different groups have less interaction. A policy restricting outside information or promotion of outside activities may be warranted but must be evenly enforced as to all outside activities. Thus, if an employer prevents employees from posting literature on a tent revival in the break room, it should be consistent and prohibit school fundraiser brochures and Girl Scout cookies too.


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About Andrew (Andy) Wampler

For over a decade, I have provided legal services to businesses and individuals in Northeast Tennessee. I spend time litigating breaches of contract, medical malpractice, and commercial disputes and have worked on a number of transactions. I also advise businesses, working much of my time on healthcare and employment matters.

2 responses to “Religious discrimination under Title VII”

  1. Jeff says :

    If I may I’d like to take a minor issue with one point you have made. You wrote “exercise a religious right”. What is a religious right? What right does a religious person have that others do not? The religious claim many rights but who gave them these rights? Most, if not all, the “rights” believers claim to have don’t actually exist and if what they really mean is a “god given right” then it definitely doesn’t exist. There is certainly no right to not be offended which is what a large proportion of their claims seem to stem from. They have the right to not have constitutionally and legally guaranteed rights infringed upon. No more, no less.
    If an employee puts up a promotion for a “tent revival”, place next to it a promo for a Satanistic orgy (not that there are such things). It’s my guess they won’t respect the right for that to be there.
    The right of the believer to proselytise has no more importance than the right to not have to listen to their ranting.

    I once worked with a born-again fanatic who simply would never allow a moment of silence without filling it with religious claptrap. My coworker picked up on a comment he had made regarding the stupidity of wasting your life on pointless hobbies like model railroading so he acquired a Hornby catalogue and every time the religious guy started proselytising he would interject with random facts about HO gauge toy trains with equal vigour. It wasn’t appreciated and he simply couldn’t understand that they were the same thing; unwanted advice about things others aren’t interested in and don’t want to hear about.

    You may not discriminate against someone based on their religious beliefs OR lack thereof.

    • Andy Wampler says :

      Thanks for your comment. I did not mean any implication by the wording. It would have been better to say “perform a religious act” than “exercise a religious right.” I have made the change to the post.

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