Religious Harassment

Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 (Title VII) prohibits employers from discriminating against someone because of his religion when making decisions about hiring, firing, or other terms and conditions of employment. Title VII also prohibits employers from harassing employees because of their religious beliefs.

It’s broader than many other laws against discrimination because it isn't just limited to taking an adverse action against an employee based on prohibited criteria. To avoid claims of religious discrimination or harassment, employers also must reasonably accommodate an employee's sincerely held religious practices unless it would impose an undue hardship on their business.

Unfortunately, there's no one-size-fits-all approach for dealing with real-life issues involving such accommodations. Instead, the reasonableness of a requested accommodation often depends on highly fact-specific questions that ultimately could wind up being second-guessed by a jury.

Two Types of Religious Harassment In the Workplace

In the first type of religious harassment, the employee is antagonized, ridiculed, and harassed because of his religious beliefs, either by coworkers or supervisors. There usually isn't any doubt that the conduct is intended to offend the employee. Again, the relevant question is whether the worker is being harassed because of his sincerely held religious belief. That's true even if the employee is an atheist or agnostic.

The second type of religious harassment arises when a coworker or supervisor “preaches” to an employee, and the employee perceives that behavior to be unwanted and offensive—amounting to a hostile environment. The stakes can be higher when it's the supervisor who is preaching to a subordinate.

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