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San Francisco Religious
Discrimination Attorney


San Francisco Religious DiscriminationReligious freedom is a cornerstone of American life, and employment discrimination rooted in religious bias — or lack-of-religion bias — is against the law. The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission is the agency responsible for enforcing anti-discrimination regulations, and, with the help of a religious discrimination lawyer, thousands of people file complaints with them each year.

What is Religious Discrimination?

Title VII of the 1964 Civil Rights Act prohibits several types of employment discrimination, including religious discrimination. Under the statute, employers cannot factor in employees’ religious beliefs when making decisions about hiring, firing, promotions, compensation, training, or assignments. Additionally, employers cannot tolerate religious-based harassment nor retaliate against employees who file Title VII charges.

Harassment, according to the law, is anything that causes an intimidating, offensive, or hostile work environment for any individual employee. Retaliation is when an employer, other employees, or clients treat claimants poorly for filing a complaint with the EEOC.

The Title VII religious discrimination parameters differ slightly from the statute’s other discriminatory classifications in that it requires employers to not only refrain from prejudicial behavior but also accommodate workers’ religious beliefs.

There are, however, limits. An accommodation that would saddle employers with unreasonable costs, undue hardships, undue burden, or safety concerns fall outside the scope of responsibility and don’t need to be met. That said, slight administrative costs, like paying overtime to another shift-covering employee, don’t count as “unreasonable costs.”

What Qualifies as a Religion Under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act?

Religion, as understood under Title VII, isn’t narrowly defined as a mainstream belief system, like Christianity, Judaism, Islam, Buddhism, Hinduism, and Mormonism. Instead, “sincerely held” faiths, which address “ultimate ideas” regarding life, death, a god or gods, and purpose, qualify. Obscure forms of mainstream religions also rank, as do one-person faiths, in addition to a lack of belief.

Economic, social, and political beliefs do not count as a religion under Title VII. In other words, you won’t win an EEOC religious discrimination case because your employer wouldn’t give you time off to attend a political rally.

The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) provides guidelines that help employers differentiate between sincerely held beliefs and attempts at subterfuge. The commission urges decision-makers to consider whether the employee typically behaves in a manner consistent with their professed beliefs. Keep in mind, however, that people’s faith changes. Just because someone acted one way when they first started working at a job doesn’t mean they can’t change and develop new beliefs. Also, is the timing of the request suspicious? Did the same worker ask for time off or accommodation under different circumstances and denied?

What Qualifies as an “Accommodation” Under Title VII?

As we mentioned earlier, the religious discrimination provisions under Title VII are unique in that they compel employers to make accommodations, not just refrain from discriminatory actions.

  • Accommodations may include:
  • Modifying someone’s schedule;
  • Allowing employees to orchestrate shift substitutions;
  • Employee reassignments;
  • Workplace policy and procedure modifications;

Refusal to accommodate, which could lead to a religious discrimination charge, may include:

  • Commanding employees to remove their hijabs but allowing other employees to wear baseball caps.
  • Refusing to allow religious desk and office decorations but letting other personal items, like family pictures.

If an employee complains, consult with a religious discrimination attorney as soon as possible. Taking action is important. You don’t want to appear like you’re ignoring the situation, which could get you into further trouble down the road.

Who Must Adhere to Federal Religious Discrimination Laws?

Title VII discrimination rules apply to employment agencies, labor organizations, in addition to federal, state, and local employees. Private employers with at least 15 workers must also comply. California’s anti-discrimination laws cover state and local agencies and companies with five or more employees.

Examples of Title VII Religious Discrimination

Religious discrimination can be subjective, so to elucidate by example, we’ve delineated hypothetical examples of potentially successful Title VII claims below. Employers may be slapped with EEOC cases if they:

  • Refuse to hire someone of a specific religion;
  • Only promote people of one particular faith;
  • Fire every one of a certain creed;
  • Refrain from hiring someone because they observe the sabbath on Saturday;
  • Fire someone for missing work on a religious holiday;
  • Make a promotion or job conditional on attending a religious service or classes — i.e., a Scientologist business owner who requires all employees to attend Scientology classes;
  • Reassign a worker because of religious garb or grooming practices — i.e., a Rasta with dreadlocks, a Sikh with uncut hair, a Jewish person who wears a yarmulke, et cetera;
  • Tease an employee about their religion, religious garb, and grooming, or dietary traditions;
  • Mock or needle an employee for not believing in a god;
  • Allow other employees to proselytize to people who’ve made it clear that they don’t wish to be converted.

For their part, employees should understand that employers can require them to make up work hours without extra pay if they do take off for religious purposes.

Employer Best Practices

Instituting a few straightforward safeguards helps businesses avoid Title VII religious discrimination legal tangles.

  • Training: To ensure that everyone on the team understands Title VII rules, employers should institute mandatory training.
  • Write it Down: Establish rules of conduct, include the language in employee contracts, and make sure you enforce them equanimously.
  • Be Relevant: When interviewing candidates, stick to questions pertaining to the position.
  • Be Flexible: Allow workplace religious expression in equal measure to personal expression.
  • Moreover, work amicably with employees on solutions and workarounds.
  • Get Help: Consult a religious discrimination lawyer to ensure all your bases are covered and that you’re interpreting the law accurately.

Employee Best Practices

Employees with religious requests also shoulder two primary responsibilities.

  • To avoid conflicts, inform your employer early on of any time off you need related to religious obligations. Requesting time off the day before could easily be seen as unreasonable.
  • If a problem arises, report it early, and then put it in writing within 45 days of the incident.

Connect with a San Francisco Religious Discrimination Attorney

Religious discrimination is against the law and shouldn’t be tolerated. If you’re unfairly treated or harassed at work because of your religion, at Rizio Lipinsky Heiting our religious discrimination attorneys in San Francisco can help. Get in touch today to start exploring your options.

  • This article should only be used for informational purposes. It does not constitute legal advice, and it does not create an attorney-client relationship with anyone. If you need legal advice, please consult an attorney in your community.
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