Employees are entitled to seek accommodation of their religious beliefs
On behalf of William Julien
Religious discrimination by employers is prohibited under both Florida statutes and Title VII of the Federal Civil Rights Act of 1964. Unfortunately, and despite its illegality, religious discrimination continues to rear its ugly head in workplaces throughout the nation. Business Insurance magazine notes that the Tanenbaum Center for Interreligious Understanding found in a national survey that more than one-third of the American workers surveyed reported observing religious bias or being subjected to it on the job.
According to the Society for Human Resources Management, one’s religious faith is often an important aspect of a person’s identity. The SHRM cites a 2012 Gallup poll finding that around 70 percent of the people in the U.S. consider themselves “very” or “moderately” religious. Interestingly, for many workers, their religious values are actually motivating factors when it comes to their employment. More than one-third of working Americans say that they pursue excellence in their work due to their religious beliefs.
Employers are obligated under the law to honor reasonable requests regarding the accommodation of an employee’s religious beliefs so long as the accommodation does not pose an undue hardship to the employer. Business Insurance magazine notes that accommodation often involves work schedules and dress codes. For example, Muslim employees may request time off on Friday to attend a mosque while Rastafarian employees may make a request that they be allowed to wear their hair in dreadlocks. Similarly, a Christian employee might ask for an accommodation to wear a pendant in the shape of a cross while a male Sikh employee requests an accommodation on hair length given that male Sikhs do not cut their hair.
If you require an accommodation for your religious beliefs, you need to be proactive. The first step is to ask for an accommodation. Since you want the company to be sensitive to you, try to come up with a suggestion for a reasonable and flexible accommodation that will not cost the company money nor cause it any undue hardship. Obviously, assure your employer that you fully intend to continue to get your work done to the best of your ability.
It is advisable to show your employer that you have taken a thoughtful approach to the accommodation request. You should be prepared to respectfully and logically address objections from the employer as to the feasibility of the request. In talking to your supervisor or the human resources department, be circumspect and recognize that many employers are often highly skittish whenever the subject of religion is raised.
Finally, remember that educating supervisors or HR personnel about a specific religious accommodation request is sometimes necessary. Never assume that the person you speak to is aware of your religion’s doctrines and teachings or the significance thereof. Educating someone about your faith is usually best done in a patient, friendly and reasonable way. It is perhaps best to err on the side of assuming that the person you are talking to may sincerely desire to help you but does not fully comprehend the tenets of your religious practice or their spiritual importance to you.
Seek legal help
No employee should feel that they are being discriminated against in the workplace because of their religious beliefs and practices. If you feel that you have been the victim of workplace discrimination, you should contact a Florida attorney experienced in handling employment law cases.