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The Vague Requirements For Religious Accommodation in the Workplace

Holly Hicks,

The Vague Requirements For Religious Accommodation in the Workplace

One of the more sensitive subjects when discussing workplace rights has to do with the issue of religious discrimination.

Specifically, what kinds of behaviors and refusals by management of a company constitutes discriminatory practices.  While people would like to think that their own religious beliefs are subject to absolute protection under the law, that simply isn’t the case.  As it currently stands, an employer must make reasonable accommodations for a worker’s religion.  Unfortunately, what is within reason or not isn’t clearly defined by federal or state laws.  Therefore, specific issues are often open for judicial interpretation.

This vagueness not only does an injustice to the employee who may legitimately feel that his or her religious rights have been violated, but the employer as well who is often unsure of just how far to make accommodations once they begin to interfere with work productivity or company morale.  To understand the laws as they pertain to religious discrimination, we have to go back to the very basics and work up from there.

First and foremost, you can’t choose to not hire someone solely based on their religion.  The very narrow exception to this is if the position absolutely requires someone from a specific religious background.  For example, if a temple needed a new Rabbi, they certainly wouldn’t be expected by law to consider applicants from outside the Jewish faith.  But for the most part, religion cannot play a factor in the hiring process.

Once hired, it may be necessary for employers to make certain allowances for individuals which help for them to better express their faith in the workplace.  These allowances are termed accommodations in legal jargon.   It is expected for employers to accommodate workers within reason.  However, there are limitations for these allowances.  What they are, unfortunately, isn’t specifically addressed by law.  Yet it is generally accepted that if an accommodation causes a hardship for the business or severely interferes with the day to day operations, then the employer may not have to allow for it.

The bottom line is that most religious discrimination cases presented before judges and juries are not clear cut matters of right and wrong.  As a matter of fact, very few cases are the result of blatant discriminatory tactics meant to punish individuals of certain religious backgrounds.  For the most part, they’re the result of simple disagreements between management and employees concerning certain accommodation requests.  So it is inevitably left up for the courts to identify the issues of the case and render a decision.


If you are a worker who feels that you’ve been subject to religious discrimination by management or fellow workers within the workplace, then you should certainly seek out help.  The first step, of course, is to speak with officials from the company, explaining the events which have transpired up to the point.  If that doesn’t yield any solution, however, then the only other alternative is to seek out legal counsel and pursue your right to religious expression by filing a lawsuit against the company and possibly individuals within it.  Whatever you choose to do, it is always important to remember that the company must prove that a requested religious accommodation causes hardship in order to legally deny such a request.  If they are unable to do so, then they’re possibly liable for religious discrimination.

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