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Religious Discrimination Or Harassment?

Your religion doesn’t impact your ability to do your job. It’s a private matter that your employer and coworkers have no reason to discuss. However, religion is a central part of many people’s lives, so they bring it up while at work.

That’s fine when it goes no further than casual, friendly discussion. Unfortunately, it’s all too common that people bring their biases into the conversation along with religion. That’s when you can start to suffer from religious discrimination.

Suppose you’re uncomfortable in your workplace because of other people’s discussion of your religion. In that case, you may be facing religious workplace discrimination. Here’s how the law defines faith-based harassment and how to tell if that’s what you’re experiencing.

Religious Discrimination Defined

In the US, workplace harassment and discrimination are banned by the Civil Rights Act of 1964. Title VII of the Act specifically prohibits discrimination and harassment based on a person’s religion. That means that employers can’t hire, fire, promote, or change their terms of employment based on a candidate’s religious beliefs.

Discrimination and harassment are slightly different. Typically, employment discrimination takes place before or after someone is hired. Religious discrimination includes not hiring someone, offering them lower wages, or giving them worse position because of their faith. It can be difficult to prove discrimination has taken place, but harassment is more obvious.

Workplace harassment occurs after someone has been hired. Once someone has a job, any unwelcome conduct they experience because of their religion can contribute to harassing them. That can include anything from religious jokes to physical attacks.

Types of Religious Discrimination in the Workplace

There are two main types of religious persecution you can face. Neither requires you to be specifically religious, either. It’s enough that someone is taking actions that negatively affect your employment or work environment based on your beliefs. The difference between the two is the intention of the perpetrator.

Quid Pro Quo Religious Harassment

Quid pro quo is Latin for “this for that.” A quid pro quo arrangement takes place when two parties agree to do something for the other. This type of workplace harassment requires one party to have some kind of power over the other and use it to force their victim to do something against their will. For example, a boss could withhold a promotion or threaten to fire an employee if they don’t do something unrelated to their job.

When it comes to religious workplace persecution, quid pro quo can be obvious or quite subtle.

For example, a subtle kind of religious persecution can take place because of holiday decoration in the workplace. Christmas is a religious holiday. Many companies specifically request employees to decorate workspaces for the holiday. Failing to do so can cause an employee to be seen as not a “team player.”

That leads to problems for non-Christians. It’s not uncommon for managers to decide to promote people who are team players over others. Failing to be seen as a team player can even lead to bad quarterly reviews and penalties. That means that the employee who doesn’t want to decorate for someone else’s religious holiday suffers from quid pro quo persecution. They’re punished for not participating in a sacred event.

Sometimes, quid pro quo is much more apparent. If a supervisor is deeply religious, they may invite their staff to attend faith-based services with them. If the supervisor favors the people who come to these services, then everyone involved is facing harassment.

The people who attend feel pressured, and the people who don’t are punished. It doesn’t matter whether the supervisor is Christian, Muslim, or a Scientologist, and the staff’s religious beliefs are irrelevant. Atheists are just as vulnerable to this kind of pressure as people of faith. It’s the supervisor’s actions that are at fault.

Religious Harassment Causing a Hostile Work Environment

Of course, not all harassment involves punishment or rewards. If a person feels attacked or harassed by coworkers, they are facing a hostile work environment. This type of situation is created when you’re subjected to unwelcome conduct that’s so constant or intense that it affects your ability to do your job.

A hostile work environment can be created over time or through a single egregious incident. Single incidents are usually obvious. For example, suppose a coworker threatens or attacks you because of your religion. In that case, your workplace has become hostile. There’s no need for additional incidents to take place to determine that it’s harassment. Muslim and Jewish people experience this type of persecution more frequently, but people of any belief can suffer from it.

Less severe behavior can also become harassment if it’s unwelcome and pervasive. You may not mind a few questions about your spiritual beliefs, but constant and aggressive questions might be upsetting. If the questioner doesn’t stop when you ask, then they are making your workplace hostile to you.

Similarly, a single joke about Jewish people isn’t enough to make a workplace hostile. However, constant jokes that don’t stop when you complain will probably be considered harassment by a judge. Make sure to document individual incidents of jokes, comments, and questions that make you uncomfortable, along with your requests that they stop. This will provide you with a paper trail if you need to take legal action.

If You’re Facing Religious Discrimination Harassment, Get Help

You have the right to believe whatever you want. Your employer and coworkers don’t have the right to abuse you for your beliefs. You don’t have to accept religious persecution at your job. Instead, you can work with an experienced workplace harassment attorney to resolve the issue.

An attorney can help you in two ways. First, they can help you stand up for yourself and encourage your employer to take action against the harassment without legal action. Second, if your employer refuses to change things, your attorney can help you file a civil rights lawsuit. One way or another, you can work with the right legal team to end the persecution you face for good.

This is attorney advertising. These posts are written on behalf of Law Offices of Todd M. Friedman, P.C. and are intended solely as informational content. These blogs in no way provide specific or actionable legal advice, nor does your use of or engagement with this site establish any attorney-client relationship. Please read the disclaimer