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.