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Religious Discrimination at the Workplace

Along with the ethnic and gender identities, religious ones are likely to be stigmatized at the workplace due to stereotyping. There are many documented cases regarding discrimination against specific religious groups. For instance, Christians are stereotyped as close-minded and naïve, Jewish – as disloyal and greedy, Muslims – as menacing and backward. In turn, pagans (druids, Wiccans, and adherents of Santeria and voodoo) are believed to be untrustworthy as atheists and nonconformists (Rayan & Gardner, 2018).

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The majority status varying in cultural context results in the variability of objects being the harassment target (for example, in Egypt, Coptic Christians are considered a stigmatized minority). The legacies of stereotypes in today’s workplace are based on historical divisions like those between Muslims and Hindus in India, and others (Rayan & Gardner, 2018). Moreover, the willingness to preserve the temporal nature of the workplace often results in harassment even in cases when a religious group is in the majority.

Company Matters

EEOC (Equal Employment Opportunity Commission) enforced the laws prohibiting intentional discrimination of the applicants or employees based on their sex (including pregnancy), race, religion, color, national origin, and disabilities. Still, there is a number of small companies where the CEOs practice the so-called “employment at will” – firing the employees for any reason. For example, CEO of a consulting company with a 60-person staff based in Ohio says that he “fired people from my company for cause, but I’ve also fired people who I think just don’t get what we’re about” (Feffer, 2018).

He added that “frankly, I don’t lose a minute of sleep when I fire someone who I think isn’t working out, for whatever reason. Of course, I drive my HR person nuts when I do that” (Feffer, 2018). He was actually lucky never to be sued by his former employees as the legal experts and employment attorneys suppose the cases would not be winning for him. Large state companies pay more attention to the legitimacy of their actions. Therefore, it is evident that the company type often matters when it comes to hiring and firing issues.

Documented Cases

Religious discrimination implies unfavorable treating an employee or an applicant due to his or her religious preferences and beliefs. Nevertheless, it is a common situation when an individual is treated differently, being married to a person of a specific religion or even associated with him or her. Religious discrimination is not limited by one form: it includes being denied promotion or work, denied accommodation at the workplace, or harassment. Employees are protected from involvement in religious discrimination by the “Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 (Title VII) and the Religious Freedom Restoration Act (RFRA).”

For example, one anonymous source describes his experience as follows: “I was on a hiring committee, and we interviewed a woman who wore a headscarf. After the interview, someone said we shouldn’t hire her because the headscarf is a safety concern. I told them that there was safety equipment we could easily buy to accommodate her. My manager said it wasn’t worth the hassle and decided not to hire her” (“Would you,” n.d.). There are many similar cases based on religious discrimination in the U.S.

Another famous case took place in Farmington, Blue Moon Diner LLC. The federal law was violated through subjecting a Muslim female employee, Samantha Bandy, to religious discrimination (“Blue Moon,” 2018). The company refused to accommodate the woman requesting to work wearing her hijab (a female headscarf worn for religious purposes).

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Hence, EEOC stated in its lawsuit that the company discharged Samantha Bandy due to her religion. Additionally, it was claimed that “such alleged conduct violates Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, which prohibits employment discrimination based on religion and retaliation for opposition to discrimination” (“Religious discrimination,” n.d.).

The suit was filed in New Mexico and asked the court to force the employer to relieve Bandy appropriately, including reimbursement of punitive and compensatory damages, back wages, and a permanent injunction forbidding the company to take part in any religious discrimination in future. Additionally, the court was asked to make the company carry out practices and policies preventing and eradicating religious discrimination in the workplace.

Under Title VII, the hijab (as well as yarmulke or turban) requires the employer to provide the applicant with the appropriate accommodation being the religious article of clothing. The employer is obliged to fulfill the accommodation without undue hardship or a burden (“Religious discrimination,” n.d.). Sometimes the employers try to justify the denial to wear the religious clothing by the employees based on worries that the customers are likely to be lost or offended.

Nevertheless, this might never be a justification for any discriminatory practice. Moreover, it is illegal to refuse hiring an applicant based on concerns that co-workers may feel uncomfortable with their national origin or religion. This prohibition also covers such employment decisions as transfers, promotions, wages, and work assignments. Hence, Bandy should have been either explained and proved that preventing her from wearing hijab posed an undue hardship to the company and its business or accommodated accordingly.

Undue hardship may be justified only through safety and health issues. For example, the assembly line workers of the factory are obliged to wear pants as the machinery may catch clothing. Additionally, wearing dresses by female employees increases the risks of suffering burns. In this case, the company has a legal right to fire the employee refusing to wear pants as it would undermine the safety policy.

In Bandy’s case, she was asked not to wear or remove her hijab being the part of her religious identity though it never posed a safety threat. Hence, her request for an employer’s accommodation is legally justified. People involved in such conflicts are advised to quickly consult with the state or federal anti-discrimination agency or attorney before risking termination or discipline (“Prohibited employment,” n.d.). Otherwise, undoing harm might be complicated once an individual is already disciplined or terminated.

Conclusion

Generally, an employer should establish a dress code applicable to employees within specific job categories or to the whole staff. Nevertheless, there are several possible exceptions to prevent conflicts. For instance, if the company requires all employers to follow a dress code, they should be treated equally without preferences or concessions for any group. For example, if a dress code prohibits wearing ethnic dresses like East Indian or traditional African attire, it should similarly treat casual dress for other employees.

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Otherwise, the company’s attitude might be considered illegal due to ethnic controversies and discrimination based on national origin. Unless the employee’s accommodation is likely to result in an undue hardship, the employer must provide it by request according to the worker’s religious practices and permit an exception of the settled dress code or modify it. Analogically, if an employee’s appeal of accommodation is based on his or her disability, the dress code should be altered or have special exceptions.

References

Blue Moon Diner sued by EEOC for religious discrimination. (2018). U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission. Web.

Feffer, M. (2018). Employment at will’ isn’t a blank check to terminate employees you don’t like. SHRM. Web.

Prohibited employment policies/practices. (n.d.). U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission. Web.

Rayan, M. A., & Gardner, D. M. (2018). Religious harassment and bullying in the workplace. Web.

Religious discrimination. (n.d.). Workplace Fairness. Web.

Would you recognize workplace discrimination? 9 examples of what it could look like. (n.d.). CPLEA. Web.

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