I have written recent posts on religious discrimination. Employment decisions can be based on religion in some circumstances.
First, the restrictions under federal law only apply to employers with fifteen or more employees (state law may have similar protections but require fewer employees).
Second, there may be a BFOQ, a bona fide occupational qualification. For instance, a Catholic church is not required to consider the application of a Baptist minister to be a priest. Certain religious belief may also be a qualification when the job involves teaching or presenting doctrine. For example, a private, religious school may lawfully require that its teachers be members of a particular denomination, and may bar anyone who is not a member from employment. BFOQs apply when the qualification is reasonably necessary to perform job duties for a position or when necessary to the normal operations of the employer. A Christian college may lawfully require positions such as president, chaplain, and faculty to be Christians or to make a profession of faith.
This exception also applies to the other protected classes under Title VII, as well as to the protections under the ADEA. For example, a transportation company may legitimately place an age restriction on a pilot or driver for public safety purposes. And a “gentlemen’s club” need only hire women for some of its positions because being female is essential to “the job.”
“There are three things I have learned never to discuss with people… Religion, Politics, and The Great Pumpkin. ” ― Charles M. Schulz
Creating a policy setting out how to make a request for accommodation is a must. Also, many employers have a sexual harassment policy. However, a better practice is to create a more general anti-harassment policy that covers all protected categories, including religion. Religion can be a unifying force, but it can also cause a great deal of strife. Protecting against strife and discrimination based on religious belief in the workplace is essential.
“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.