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Employers: Watch out for religious discrimination

On April 23, 2020, the Muslim holy month of Ramadan began. During this month on the lunar calendar, those who observe Ramadan will fast during the day, from dawn until sunset, which is only one aspect of how individuals observe this month.

Ramadan is by far not the only religious observance - of any religion, for that matter. Many employees observe religious holidays throughout the calendar year. It is common, and yet employers must be consciously aware of these situations to avoid accusations of discrimination.

What counts as religious discrimination?

Most employers know that it is against federal law to discriminate against an employee's religion. However, employers must understand what could fall under the umbrella of discrimination.

Discrimination can involve:

  • Making employment decisions based on the individual's religion, such as hiring, firing or demoting;
  • Assigning individuals to certain roles because of their religion; and
  • Harassing comments about the religion that create a hostile work environment.

Employers are expected to make reasonable accommodations for an employee's practice of religion. For example, an employer might have to make modifications to grooming policies to allow religious garb.

Employers must be aware of these details. After all, they have a duty to make sure employees do not experience discrimination over their religion in the workplace.

What should employers do?

As always, employers must be proactive to prevent religious discrimination in their business. This not only protects their company and reputation but also their employees.

So, it is critical that employers:

  • Establish clear policies against religious discrimination;
  • Address the issue of retaliation in these policies;
  • Train supervisors and employers on these policies; and
  • Create a strategy to make accommodations, when employees request them.

A little understanding can go a long way in the workplace. Religion is often a deeply personal part of employees' lives. Recognizing that and making efforts to comply with state and federal laws that protect employees and their rights can, in turn, protect the business in the long run.

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