Religious Accommodations

Religious discrimination is prohibited by Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964. Religious discrimination occurs when a person (an applicant or employee) is treated unfavorably because of his or her religious beliefs or because that person is married to or associated with an individual of a particular religious belief or religious group. The law protects not only members of traditional organized religions, but also people with sincerely held religious, ethical, or moral beliefs.

Forms of religious discrimination include:
• Treating some employees less favorably because of their religion
• Requiring some employees to participate or refrain from participating in a religious activity as a condition of employment
• Assigning an employee to a particular position because of his or her religious beliefs

Title VII requires employers to take steps to prevent religious harassment and prohibits an employer from retaliating against its employees for asserting their rights under Title VII.

The Act also requires an employer to reasonably accommodate an employee’s religious beliefs or practices unless doing so would cause more than a minimal burden on the employer’s business operations. Examples of common religious accommodations include:
• Flexible scheduling, voluntary shift substitutions or swaps
• Job reassignments
• Modifications to workplace policies and practices

Unless it would cause the employer undue hardship, an employer must also allow for dress and grooming practices relating to religious beliefs.

The Office of Diversity & Inclusion makes official university determinations regarding accommodations relating to an employee’s specific religious beliefs. Employees or applicants for employment with questions regarding religious accommodation should contact the Office of Diversity & Inclusion at 757-221-2615.

Frequently Asked Questions

1. Has religious discrimination in the workplace increased since September 11, 2001?
Yes. The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) and state and local fair employment practice agencies have recorded a significant increase in religious and national origin discrimination cases since the September 11, 2001 attacks. Many cases involve harassment and discharge of those perceived as Muslim, Arab, South Asian, or Sikh.

2. What are some specific examples of dress and grooming practices that an employer must permit under Title VII absent a showing of undue hardship to the employer?
Examples of religious dress and grooming practices that an employer must usually allow include: wearing religious clothing or articles, such as a Christian cross, Muslim hijab, or a Sikh kirpan; observing religious practices of prohibited clothing, such as a Muslim, Pentecostal Christian, or Orthodox Jewish woman's refraining from wearing pants or short skirts; and complying with or shaving to hair length requirements, such as Sikh uncut hair and beard or Jewish sidelocks.

3. What counts as undue hardship for the employer’s business operation under Title VII?
Religious accommodations that may cause undue hardship and may justify an employer’s denial of the accommodations include those that are costly, detract from workplace safety, decrease workplace efficiency, infringe on the rights of other employees, or require other employees to perform a disproportionate amount of hazardous or burdensome work. However, discomfort of other coworkers does not constitute undue hardship and is not a valid reason to deny an employee’s request for religious accommodation.

4. Can an employer deny a religious accommodation to an employee or group of employees based on the employer’s prediction that many other employees will seek the same accommodation and cause the employer undue hardship?
No. An employer should only consider the specific request made, not hypothetical future requests, when determining whether or not granting the request would cause the employer undue hardship.

5. Does Title VII prohibit discrimination against an employee because he or she has no religious beliefs?
Yes. An employer may not exclude an applicant from a job or treat an employee unfavorably because of a lack of religious beliefs.

6. Do Title VII religious protections apply to employees in temporary positions?
Yes. An employer may not treat a temporary employee unfavorably based on his or her religion under Title VII.

7. Is customer preference a defense to an employee’s religious discrimination claim?
No, customer preference is not a valid excuse for denying a job to an applicant or making any employment-related decisions, such as firing, promotion, transfers, work assignment, and wages. For instance, an employer may not deny an applicant a job because the employer is concerned that the applicant’s religion or religious beliefs will make customers uncomfortable.

8. What constitutes harassment based on religion?
Harassment based on religion occurs both when an employee must abandon, alter, or adopt a religious practice as a condition of employment and when an employee must endure unwanted comments or conduct concerning his or her religion. However, a consensual discussion of religion is not harassment as long as it is not unwelcome.

9. What action does Title VII require of a manager or supervisor who becomes aware of religious-based harassment?
Title VII requires the manager or supervisor to promptly address the harassment and take affirmative steps to end it. Title VII requires employers to implement policies that prevent harassment. The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) recommends confidential complaint systems to encourage employees to report harassment incidents.

10. Can an employer require an applicant to undergo a background investigation because of his or her religion?
No. The employer must require the same pre-employment background investigation and screening test for all applicants for the same position, regardless of their religion. However, security clearances are not subject to review under Title VII.

11. Can an employee object to an employer-sponsored program or professional development training based on religious grounds?

It depends. Under Title VII, an employer must excuse and accommodate an employee who objects to a program or compulsory training unless doing so would cause the employer undue hardship. However, in this instance, if the training provides information for performing an employee's job, complying with equal opportunity laws and regulations as well as workplace policies and procedures, etc. the employee must take the training.