What is it?
Sometimes an employer treats an employee differently because of the employee’s religion. For example, an employer might engage in Christian prayer at work such as before a meeting or through an informal bible group at the workplace. Employees of other faiths may not want to participate in this Christian activity. When an employer treats an employee differently because of an employee’s religion, this can be religious discrimination. Like other forms of discrimination, the employer usually must take some type of negative action toward the employee such as a termination, demotion, failure to promote, or lay-off. Even an employee who is atheist or who practices a “non-traditional” faith may be protected from religious discrimination at work. Another form of religious discrimination can occur when an employee needs an accommodation at work because of a religious belief. For example, a devout Muslim may need to attend prayer services at his mosque for a short period on Friday afternoons. This employee may request a schedule that provides for this flexibility. An employer is under a legal duty to provide this type of accommodation unless the employer can show it would be too difficult or costly.
What is the consequence?
An employee discriminated against because of religion has the same rights to recover remedies as those employees discriminated against for other unlawful bases, e.g., race or sex. The remedies an employee may seek in a religious discrimination lawsuit include:
- Back pay – This may include lost wages and benefits from the date of the harmful act until the end of the lawsuit. Back pay may include salary, bonuses, vacation pay, and pension and health benefits.
- Front pay – This includes pay the employee would have received in the future if the discrimination had not prevented the employee’s return to the workplace.
- Job reinstatement – The employee may be reinstated to their job instead of receiving front pay.
- Accommodations – The employer may be required to allow the employee to practice their religious belief.
- Punitive damages – This includes additional money from the employer as punishment for intentionally ignoring the needs of an employee with a disability.
- Compensatory damages – This is money for the disabled employee to justly compensate for the injury, such as money for emotional distress, mental anguish, pain and suffering, inconvenience, humiliation, and medical expenses incurred as result of psychological or physical harm.
- Attorney fees – As with most laws that protect civil rights, the employer must pay the employee’s attorney fees when the employee succeeds with the claim.