Religious Expression and The Tolerance of Religious Practices Religious expression

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While the United States was proudly built on the concept of religious freedom, there has 

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been a failure in the business world to accommodate the religious expression needs of employees for decades. Religious discrimination, both towards current employees and employment applicants, is unfortunately not all that uncommon. Whether a company knowingly discriminates against an employee due to their religious beliefs or fails to accommodate a need innocently, they are violating Title VII.            

Recent Cases

In 2012 a trucking company was accused of discriminating against an employee based on their religious beliefs. According to the complaint, J.C. Witherspoon Jr., Inc., a trucking company based in South Carolina, terminated an employee because he refused to work on Saturday. The former employee, Leroy Lawson informed both the hiring manager and his foreman that due to his religious beliefs he could not work Saturdays. Lawson was terminated after he refused to work a Saturday shift, noting his religious beliefs as the reason.

In 2015 the Supreme Court ruled that Abercrombie and Fitch, the clothing retailer, discriminated against an applicant due to her religious expression needs. According to the filing, Samantha Elauf, a practicing Muslim, was denied a position with the company because she refused to comply with the “look policy” held by the company. The policy banned head coverings for its employees.

In 2017, a hospitality staffing agency in Orlando agreed to settle a discrimination case brought against them by the EEOC. According to the filing, Courtney B. Joseph, a practicing Rastafarian, was told to cut his hair in order to keep his job with a Walt Disney World resort, the staffing agency made the request. Because Joseph’s dreadlocks are part of a religious observance, the EEOC argued that the company failed to make a religious accommodation for Joseph.

Accommodating Religious Beliefs

Under Title VII, companies must accommodate the religious needs and beliefs and their employees in a fair manner. Business owners and hiring managers may not discriminate against an employee or employment applicant based on their religious beliefs or the accommodations required for that employee to practice their religion.

An employer must make reasonable accommodations for employees who wish to exercise their right to religious freedom. These accommodations may include suspending a dress code policy to accommodate religious dress, allowing for breaks that take into consideration prayer schedules, scheduling employees to oblige sabbath days, and accommodate time-off requests for holy days.

Generally speaking, an employer must grant religious expression requests unless the request would cause an undue hardship for the business. The employer does not have to honor the specific accommodation request, but rather, must merely offer an accommodation that will allow for the religious observance in question. It is preferred if the employee and employer can work together to come up with accommodations.

Best Practices

All companies should strive to accommodate the religious needs and beliefs of their employees, but many businesses fall short because they just do not know how to best approach religion in the workplace. To ensure your workplace is tolerant of religious needs follow these practices;

  • Document the employee's rights to religious freedom.
  • Instate a set procedure for employees to request religious, and other, accommodations
  • Train managers and HR staff to deal with religious accommodation requests in a timely and sensitive manner.
  • Assess each request individually and promptly.

These basic practices will not only allow your employees to request religious accommodations quickly, but it can help build a company culture that is both informed and tolerant of different religions and their requirements.


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