Religious expression in the workplace: a primer

It is illegal to discriminate against someone in the workplace because of their chosen religion or dogma.

America is a nation built on freedom. Freedom of speech, freedom to peacefully protest and freedom of the press are all examples of the types of liberties that help make our country great. Another key, constitutionally protected freedom is that to practice the religion of our choice. Though some don't realize it, that protection extends to our workplace: Florida state and federal laws exist to ensure that we are allowed freedom to practice our religious dictates and dogmas while on the job without harassment or discrimination.

Relevant laws

Florida Statutes Section 760.10 prohibits discrimination in employment and labor unions based on race, age, gender, pregnancy, religion, national origin, marital status and handicap/disability. The law clearly defines a number of actions which, if taken (or not taken) due to an applicant or employee's status as a member of a "protected class" like those listed above, are illegal. In the employment context, Florida law says this applies to:

  • Failing to hire an applicant
  • Firing an employee
  • In the case of employment agencies, failing or refusing to refer someone for employment
  • Refusing to allow opportunities for training, apprenticeship or licensure

Federal laws, namely those in Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, also expressly prohibit discrimination in the workplace on the basis of the above-mentioned "protected classes."

Handling religious expression in the workplace

Most religious beliefs don't have significant impact on the day-to-day job duties of the average worker. That being said, there are circumstances in which an employee may need special dispensation from their employer to attend religious services, pray at set times during the workday, wear a head covering like a yarmulke, turban or hijab (in violation of company wardrobe guidelines) or avoid working with certain types of food products. If religious dictates and business needs can be mutually adjusted without an "undue hardship" for the employer, then the law demands that accommodations be made.

So, how does an employer know when the burden it would incur by granting a requested religious-based accommodation is "undue" in nature? The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission has provided guidance about that. According to the EEOC, an accommodation might be refused on the basis of undue hardship if it:

  • Forces the company to incur "more than ordinary" administrative costs
  • Infringes upon the rights or benefits of other employees
  • Impairs job safety for the requesting employee or others
  • Diminishes workplace efficiency
  • Conflicts with existing laws or administrative regulations
  • Forces co-workers or managers to carry additional burdens upon themselves that would otherwise be handled by the employee seeking the accommodation

The law mandates not only that employees be allowed the freedom to express their religious views in the workplace (within reason), but also that they not be discriminated against because of those views. Employers must avoid singling out an employee based on his or her religious beliefs, and must also ensure that other employees, colleagues and customers aren't subjecting the employee to harassment. If you feel that you have been harassed or discriminated against on the job because of your sincerely held religious beliefs, you have legal rights. To learn more, speak with an experienced employment law attorney like those at the Fort Lauderdale office of The Amlong Firm. Call them today at 954-519-2235 or contact them online.