A person’s religion should have no bearing on their employment, yet religious discrimination continues to be a problem for employees in Washington state. Federal and state laws protect employees from discrimination or harassment based on their religious faith. When an employer discriminates against an employee due to his or her religious beliefs, the employee will often also experience a hostile work environment and experience stress. If your employer has discriminated against you due to your religious beliefs, you might have a valid legal claim. Contacting a Washington state employment lawyer right away is important.
At Sapphire Legal, founding attorney Kristi Favard dedicates her legal practice to advocating for employees in Washington State. She firmly believes that nobody should have to endure discrimination because of his or her belief system. Contact Sapphire Legal, PLLC today to schedule your initial consultation and learn how she can advocate for your rights.
What Is Religious Discrimination in the Workplace?
Religious discrimination happens when an employee experiences unfair treatment due to his or her religious beliefs. Religious discrimination can also include unfair treatment due to the religious beliefs of someone with whom the employee associates. For example, if an employer denies an employee a promotion because the employee’s spouse is a member of a certain religion, the employer has engaged in religious discrimination.
Federal anti-discrimination laws, such as Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 protect employees from religious-based discrimination. On a state level, the Washington Law Against Discrimination (WLAD) protects employees from discrimination based on his or her “creed or religion.” Washington lawmakers purposely made their law more expansive than federal laws to offer additional protection for employees.
Which Religious Beliefs Are Protected Under the Law?
Federal and local laws protect beliefs in established religions such as Islam, Judaism, and Christianity. These laws also protect beliefs that don’t necessarily fit into a formal religious system. The term religious belief includes any sincerely held religious, personal, or ethical beliefs, including ethical humanism and atheism.
If you are unsure about whether or not your belief constitutes religious beliefs, we recommend scheduling a consultation. We can review the facts of your case and help you determine whether the actions your employer took against you constitute religious discrimination in the workplace.
Disparate Treatment Based on Religion
Religious discrimination in the workplace can take many different forms. There are two general types of religious discrimination in the workplace, disparate treatment and failure to provide an employee with reasonable accommodation to practice their religion. Disparate treatment based on religion happens when an employer makes a decision based on religion. A disparate impact is also known as an adverse impact. These impacts can be unintentional or intentional.
Employees need to show that their employer treated them differently than other employees who didn’t share their same religious beliefs. Employees will also need to show that the employer made a decision because of the employee’s religious beliefs. Disparate treatment of an employee based on the employee’s religion can involve any employment-related decision, such as hiring, demoting, or terminating employment.
Many people mistakenly think that disparate treatment only happens when an employer himself or herself performs the disparate treatment. On the contrary, when a supervisor, coworker, or third party engages in disparate treatment based on an employee’s religious beliefs, the employee might still have a valid legal claim for discrimination.
Religious Discrimination for Failure to Make Reasonable Accommodations
Under federal and state law, employers must provide employees reasonable accommodations for their religious beliefs. For example, an employer must make accommodations to wear certain religious garments such as a hijab or yarmulke. Employers must also make accommodations so that religious employees can observe daily prayers.
Additionally, employers must accommodate an employee’s desire to take time off of work to observe a religious holiday. Finally, employees have a legal right to follow certain religious grooming customs, such as Rastafarian dreadlocks or a Sikh’s beard.
Employers have some flexibility to accommodate requests for religious accommodations. Employers are not automatically required to agree to whatever an employee requests. When employers can prove that doing so would cause undue hardship to their business, they are not required to make a religious accommodation. For example, an employer can choose to give the employee a day off for religious reasons but can tell the employee that he or she will not receive payment for that day off.
Religious Harassment in the Workplace
Religious harassment is also illegal in Washington state. Religious harassment can include making comments or engaging in offensive conduct in light of an employee’s religious beliefs. Employees will need to demonstrate the harassment they’ve experienced rises to the level of creating a hostile work environment.
Someone who makes a joke about a co-worker’s religion is probably not engaging in harassment. However, if the employee continually makes targeted and offensive jokes about an employee’s religion, the employee might be in a hostile work environment. Trying to convert an employee to a certain religion could also create a hostile work environment. The employee will need to show that the harassment is enough to interfere with his or her ability to perform his or her job duties.
Examples of Religious Discrimination and Harassment
Every case of religious discrimination is unique, but the following are common examples of religious discrimination:
- Refusing to allow an employee to engage in daily prayer
- Denying a job offer, promotion, pay raise, or any other benefit based on religious belief
- Terminating a position after an employee takes time off for a religious holiday
- Making offensive depictions about religion
- Forbidding clothing or hairstyles related to religion
- Stopping an employee from contacting clients due to their religious clothing
Contact Our Religious Discrimination Lawyer Today
Religious discrimination can make an employee’s life miserable. At Sapphire Legal, PLLC, we care deeply about helping employees protect their rights. Nobody should have to work in a hostile environment due to their belief system. If your employer has discriminated against you based on your religion, you might be entitled to compensation. Contact us as soon as possible to schedule your initial consultation and learn how we can advocate for you.