The Constitution and the Amendments lay out the various rights that people have as citizens of the United States. One of those rights is the freedom to exercise their own religion. This means that neither the states nor the federal government can establish a state religion or stop you from practicing your own religion. These protections were extended to include private companies by Title VII of the Civil Rights Act.
The Civil Rights Act prohibits employers from discriminating against employees in a variety of ways. The three types of discrimination or discriminatory effect are:
- Disparate treatment.
- Hostile work environments.
- Disparate impact.
Disparate treatment occurs when your employer treats you unfairly than your co-workers. It does not mean that you are treated differently. For example, some religions demand that you get different treatment, such as being permitted to pray at certain times during the workday. It only means that you are treated unfairly. Common examples are refusing to hire someone due to their religion or denying promotions.
Hostile work environments result when your employer actively permits a dangerous or hostile environment at work. It can occur because your employer purposefully harasses you or your employer refuses to institute a policy to prevent your co-workers from harassing you. The harassment must be so severe as to create an intimidating or abusive workplace in which you are unable to focus. Therefore, disagreements about accommodations or religious principles are likely insufficient.
Finally, the most insidious form of discrimination is the disparate impact. Disparate impact occurs when your employer does not adopt a specific policy to discriminate but instead creates a policy that impacts your religious affiliation more than others. Specifically, it makes no mention of religion but operates in a manner that discriminates against you based on your religion. A common example is a rule forbidding religious headwear at work, even though wearing such garb has no impact on your ability to do your job properly.
If you were the victim of discrimination at work due to your religious affiliation, you have several options. You may want to consult with an attorney before you decide to take action so you fully understand the situation. A lawyer can walk you through the various options and help you decide which one is the best choice for you.