Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 protects employees from workplace discrimination on the basis of their race, color, religion, sex, or national origin. In addition, Title VII requires an employer to reasonably accommodate an employee’s religious beliefs and observances.
On October 6, 2017, U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions issued a memorandum for all executive departments and agencies concerning federal law protections for religious liberty. The memorandum guides all U.S. administrative agencies and executive departments in the execution of federal law.
In order to uphold the foundational principle of religious liberty, the memorandum states that “to the greatest extent practicable and permitted by law, religious observance and religious practice should be reasonably accommodated in all government activity, including employment, contracting, and programming.” The memorandum then set out 20 broad principles of religious liberty to guide administrative agencies and executive departments in implementing this objective. Some of these principles discuss religion in the workplace.
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Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 Prohibits Discrimination Based on Religion
The sixteenth principle in the memorandum states that Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, as amended, prohibits covered employers from discriminating against an employee because of his/her religion. This prohibition is found in 42 U.S.C. § 2000e-2(a). A private employer must have 15 or more employees in order to be covered under Title VII.
Title VII defines religion broadly to include all aspects of religious observance, religious practice, and belief. The seventeenth principle in the Attorney General’s memorandum states that an employer must reasonably accommodate an employee’s religious observance, religious practice, or belief unless to do so would impose an undue hardship on the employer’s business.
For example, according to the memorandum, an employer that is covered under Title VII must adjust employee work schedules if any employees desire to observe the Sabbath, religious holidays, or other religious observances, unless doing so would create an undue hardship on the employer’s business. The employer must establish any undue hardship with specificity; general assumptions are insufficient.
EEOC Wins Religious Discrimination Lawsuit Against Employer for Constructive Termination
The Fourth Circuit case EEOC v. Consol Energy, Inc., which was discussed in a previous blog dated September 12, 2017, is a religious accommodation case under Title VII. To read that blog about an employer’s liability for failing to accommodate an employee’s core religious beliefs, click here EEOC Wins Religious Discrimination Lawsuit.
Guidelines on Religious Expression in the Federal Workplace in 1997 Spelled Out Employee Freedoms
President Clinton issued Guidelines on Religious Exercise and Religious Expression in the Federal Workplace in 1997. According to the Attorney General’s memorandum, these Guidelines explained that federal employees could keep religious materials on their private desks and read them during breaks. They could discuss their religious views with other employees, subject to the general limitations for employee expression. They could display religious messages on clothing or wear religious medallions. They could also invite others to attend worship services at their places of worship, unless such speech becomes excessive or harassing. The eighteenth principle in the memorandum states that President Clinton’s Guidelines can be useful to private employers in determining the reasonable accommodation of the religious observances and religious practice of employees.
Religious Employers Exempted from Religious Discrimination in the Workplace
Special legal rules apply to religious employers. Qualifying religious organizations are exempted from Title VII’s prohibition on religious discrimination in the workplace. Under the special protections granted to them, religious organizations, according to the memorandum, may employ only persons who share the same religious beliefs, faith, or code of conduct.
According to the Attorney General’s memorandum, for example, a Lutheran secondary school can choose to employ only practicing Lutherans, only practicing Christians, or only those individuals who adhere to a code of conduct consistent with the precepts of the Lutheran community sponsoring the school. The nineteenth principle of the memorandum states the special protections that apply to religious organizations. However, some critics are concerned that religious employers could potentially rely on the broad language in the memorandum to discriminate illegally against employees.
The Attorney General’s memorandum, for the most part, relies on broad and established general principles of religious liberty. The memorandum emphasizes that an employer must accommodate an employee’s religious observance, religious practice, or belief unless to do so would impose an undue hardship on the employer’s business. It also reiterates that religious organizations are granted certain special protections and exemptions for some employment practices.
Workplace Discrimination Occurs in Many Different Types of Situations
Perhaps you have suffered from workplace discrimination, wrongful termination, retaliation for making a benefits claim, or some other adverse action by your employer. If so, please click here Contact an Employment Law Attorney at Kilgore & Kilgore for a free evaluation of the facts of your case.