Law requires reasonable accommodation of religious beliefs, practices

Q&A with Kathy Neal

published in The Oklahoman | October 13, 2017

The issue of religious discrimination made headlines recently after the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission announced it had settled lawsuits in which the agency alleged two employers failed to reasonably accommodate the religious beliefs of female Pentecostal Apostolic employees who had requested to wear skirts instead of the pants and blue jeans required by their companies’ respective dress codes.

In a business Q&A with The Oklahoman, labor and employment attorney Kathy Neal reminded employers that Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 not only prohibits religious discrimination in the workplace, but requires employers to accommodate the religious beliefs and practices of its employees so long as doing so would not cause and undue hardship on the employer. While some religious practices are easily accommodated, she admitted that the ambiguity of what constitutes “religion” can put employers in a difficult position.

“Religion is personal and subjective, and, as a result, Title VII’s protection extends to a sincerely held belief,” said Neal. “Religion need not be an organized or traditional religion, such as Christianity, Catholicism, Judaism or Islam. It does not need to be from recognized teachings. It doesn’t require identification with a God or deity; atheism also is protected under Title VII. Congress has defined religion in the context of another federal law as a belief in a relation to a supreme being involving duties superior to those arising from any human relation.”

Neal said religious discrimination by an employer can take many forms, including failing to accommodate a reasonable request, failing to hire someone based on the individual’s religion, and failing to address claims of a hostile work environment.