If your Utah employer has asked you to do something that you think violates your religious beliefs, you may be wondering if you have any legal protection. If your Utah workplace has more than 15 total employees anywhere in the United States, you are protected by federal anti-discrimination laws.
Title VII requires employers who receive notice of a request, to reasonably accommodate employees whose sincere religious beliefs, practices, or observances create conflict with work requirements, unless the accommodation would be an undue hardship for the employer. What is “Religion” Under the law, protected “religions” can include all of the following:
- Belief in God
- Moral beliefs that don’t involve a specific god, but involve ideas regarding purpose, life, or death.
- Membership in a common organized religion like Islam, Judaism, Protestant Churches, The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, or similar.
- Membership in a smaller, newer, or uncommon sect.
- Atheism or agnosticism.
Additionally, employees are protected from discrimination based on being married or in a significant relationship with someone who falls into one of these categories. What is a Reasonable Religious Accommodation? A religious accommodation in a Utah workplace is any adjustment to the work environment that will allow an employee to practice his or her religion. These adjustments may include:
- Exceptions to dress codes for religious headscarves or headwear, or to accommodate religious beliefs that prohibit women from wearing pants.
- Exceptions to grooming standards to accommodate not cutting head or facial hair.
- Scheduling changes to accommodate Sabbath observance.
- Breaks throughout the day to accommodate prayer.
- Changes in job duties if the employee would be required to do something that is against his or her religious beliefs.
Furthermore, employers are not allowed to segregate employees or make them work outside of public view if they do not comply with dress or grooming codes for religious reasons. What is an Undue Hardship? If an employee has requested religious accommodation, the employer should grant it or come up with a similar plan unless it can show that granting the accommodation would create an undue hardship. Examples of undue hardship may include:
- Significant administrative costs to the employer
- Health or safety risks to other employees
- Violations of the law or collective bargaining agreements
- Needing to hire more employees to cover shifts
- Damaging workplace morale or efficiency.
Employers need to be able to show that these hardships are real, and not just something they are worried might happen if a religious accommodation is granted. For example, a Utah employer may be flooded with requests from dozens of employees requesting Sundays off for Sabbath observance. An employer in this situation needs to come up with a fair solution so that all employees wanting Sundays off get some Sundays off. That same employer might be required to give a single employee requesting Saturdays off for Sabbath observance all Sundays off. What if I am Discriminated Against or Harassed? The laws that govern Utah workplaces make it illegal to harass or discriminate against a person based on his or her religious beliefs. Harassment can include offensive remarks or conduct towards a person’s religion that is so bad that it creates a hostile or offensive work environment. Just like sexual harassment, religious harassment does not include offhand comments or minor isolated incidents.
A harasser can be the harassed employee’s supervisor, a supervisor from another area, a co-worker, or a non-employee like a contractor. Religious discrimination can include failure to promote, demotion, poor performance evaluations, or other similar adverse employment actions that are based on an employee’s religious beliefs. What Should Utah Employees Do to Protect Their Legal Rights? If you think you are experiencing religious harassment, you should ask the harasser to stop. If that does not work, you should report it to Human Resources through the proper chain of command, or to the Equal Employment Opportunity Officer, if your workplace has one. Additionally, you can protect yourself from accusations of religious harassment by keeping in mind the following best practices for employees:
- Do not proselytize in the workplace to any individual who has told you that religious communication is unwelcome or has asked you to stop.
- If you have asked for accommodation, tell your supervisor about the exact conflict between your religious beliefs and your workplace duties, and provide enough information for your supervisor to understand what you are asking for and why your religion requires it.
- If you are a supervisor, follow up with your employees to request clarifying and relevant information before making a decision about a religious accommodation.
If you have been the victim of religious harassment or discrimination in Utah, strict time deadlines may apply to your case. We recommend that you contact one of our highly experienced religious discrimination employment law attorneys for a consultation. The experienced religious discrimination attorneys at Hepworth & Associates can be reached at 801-872-2222. -- This article was written by Attorney Jennifer K. Zeleny of Hepworth & Associates, LLC.