Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 protects employees (in companies with 15 employees or more) from religious discrimination and requires that employers reasonably accommodate the sincerely held religious, ethical and moral beliefs and practices of their employees, unless doing so will be an undue hardship on the employer. (State and local government employers must adhere to these rules regardless of their number of employees.) Unless the employer can demonstrate that doing so will cause significant difficulty or expense, failing to grant a reasonable religious accommodation may be determined to be religious discrimination under Title VII.
Title VII defines religion as including “all aspects of religious observance and practice as well as belief.” The religion does not have to be a traditional, organized religion. Title VII protection also extends to moral and ethical beliefs that are not part of a formal religion or sect, regardless of how many people subscribe to them. After the U.S. Supreme Court’s decision in the Hobby Lobby case, courts have added the requirement that the beliefs be “sincerely held.”
With regards to discrimination, Title VII also protects those who have no religious beliefs. In other words, it is illegal to discriminate against an employee or potential employee because they have no religious beliefs or affiliation.
What Constitutes a Reasonable Religious Accommodation?
A reasonable accommodation is any adjustment to working conditions in order to allow employees to practice their sincerely held religious, moral or ethical beliefs.
Accommodations for religious beliefs include:
- Flexible scheduling
- Voluntary shift substitutions or swaps
- Job reassignments or lateral transfers, and
- Modifications to grooming policy and/or dress code to allow for wearing religious dress or to comply with religious practices concerning grooming.
Texas Labor Code Chapter 21 echoes Title VII in its stance on religious discrimination and accommodation, but adds one more requirement. Texas retail employers must give employees their requested day off each week to attend a worship service.
If an employer can demonstrate that a religious accommodation is cost prohibitive, dangerous, decreases workplace efficiency, or compromises the rights of other employees, then the employer may be able to deny the accommodation on the grounds of undue hardship.
If you have questions about the criteria for reasonable religious accommodations, undue hardship, or if you have any other concerns about compliance with Title VII and Texas Labor Code Chapter 21, it is best to consult an employment lawyer. The attorneys at Simon | Paschal PLLC have experience with these issues and they can answer your questions about religious accommodations.