Safeguarding Against Religious Discrimination in the Workplace

Safeguarding Against Religious Discrimination in the Workplace

As an employer, you want to ensure that your workplace feels safe and supportive for its employees. Guarding against religious discrimination by setting expected standards and developing clear procedures is an important part of this process.

There are a number of best practices you can take in order to prevent discrimination based on religion or culture, some of which include:

Preventing Discrimination

  • Establish written criteria for evaluating candidates based on their experience and job performance and apply them to all candidates for hire or promotion.
  • During interviews, ask the same questions of all applicants and stick to matters directly related to the position available.
  • Carefully and accurately record business reasons for any employee disciplinary or performance-related actions.
  • When management decisions require the exercise of subjective judgment, reduce the risk of discriminatory decisions by providing thorough training.
  • If confronted with customer biases, such as an adverse reaction to being served by an employee wearing religious garments, consider engaging with and educating the customers regarding any misperceptions they may have and/or the equal employment opportunity laws.

Creating An Inclusive Workplace

There are many ways in which your company can build and modify practices to create a climate of understanding and goodwill.

Religious Dress

Make efforts to allow an employee’s desire to wear a yarmulke, hijab or other religious attire. If there is concern about workplace safety or uniform appearance in a position involving interaction with the public, it may be appropriate to consider whether the employee’s religious views would permit him or her from making an adjustment such as wearing the religious item in the company uniform color(s).

Managers and employees should be trained not to engage in stereotyping based on religious dress and grooming practices and should not assume that atypical dress will create an undue hardship.

Social Gatherings

Be sensitive to the risk of unintentionally pressuring or coercing employees into attending social gatherings when an he or she indicates a religious objection to attending.

Addressing Complaints

Make sure that your company has a well-publicized and consistently applied anti-harassment policy that:

  • Outlines conduct that is prohibited
  • Describes procedures for reporting harassment
  • Contains an assurance that complainants will be protected against retaliation

Likewise, make sure your company has a clearly outlined process for handling complaints which includes prompt, thorough and impartial investigations and corrective actions. To prevent conflicts from escalating to the level of a Title VII violation, employers should immediately intervene when they become aware of objectively abusive or insulting conduct.

If an employee communicates objections to religious conduct that has been directed at them, the employer should take steps to end the conduct even if the employer does not regard it as abusive. When the source of harassment is from a non-employee assigned by a contractor, a supervisor or other appropriate individual in the chain of command should meet with the contractor to demand that it cease, that appropriate disciplinary action be taken if it continues, and/or that a different individual be assigned to the work.

Retaliation

It is hoped that by putting safeguards against religious discrimination in place, that everyone in the workplace can feel protected and represented. However, in some cases, there may be worst-case scenarios that occur. In the event of these situations, employers can reduce the risk of retaliation claims by:

  • Training managers and supervisors to be aware of their anti-retaliation obligations under Title VII, including specific actions that may constitute retaliation.
  • Carefully and timely recording the accurate business reasons for disciplinary or performance-related actions and sharing these reasons with the employee.

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