Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 prohibits employers with 15 or more employees from discriminating against individuals because of religion. Religious discrimination occurs when an employer treats an applicant or employee unfavorably because of his or her religious beliefs or because of his or her association with an individual of a particular religious group. People who belong to traditional, organized religions (i.e., Christianity, Islam, Judaism, etc.), as well as other individuals who have sincerely held religious, ethical or moral beliefs are protected. Thus, an employer cannot treat an employee differently because of an employee’s religious beliefs or practices. Nor may an employer force an employee to participate in or prohibit an employee from participating in a religious activity as a condition of employment.
Employers are also required to reasonably accommodate employees’ sincerely held religious practices unless doing so would impose an undue hardship on the employer. Reasonable accommodations extend to religious dress or grooming practices. For example, an employer may have to allow an employee to wear a head covering (i.e., a Muslim headscarf or a Sikh turban) or maintain facial hair. Similarly, an employer may be required to honor an employee’s religious proscription against wearing certain garments (such as pants or miniskirts).
New York City and State Human Rights laws also protect employees and applicants from discrimination on the basis of religion in workplaces with four or more employees.
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