Religious Discrimination


There are many different types of discrimination that can occur in the workplace, and religious discrimination is one of them. Religious discrimination involves treating an applicant or employee unfavorably because of their religious beliefs. The law protects those who believe in organized religions—such as Christianity, Judaism, Buddhism, and Hinduism—as well as those who have strong religious, moral, or ethical beliefs.

Religious discrimination laws apply to employers with 15 or more employees. The law forbids discrimination when it comes to hiring, pay, benefits, job assignments, training, promotions, layoff, firing, and any other aspect of employment. Also prohibited in the workplace is any type of segregation based on religion (including religious clothing and grooming), such as reassigning an employee to a position where they are not in the public eye due to actual or feared customer preference.

Religious Practices

Religious practices may be based on theistic (believing in God) or nontheistic (not believing in God) beliefs as well as moral or ethical beliefs about what is right or wrong. Religious observances or practices may include:

  • Praying
  • Attending worship services
  • Displaying religious objects
  • Wearing religious clothing or symbols
  • Adhering to dietary rules
  • Refraining from certain activities
  • Other forms of religious expression


Religious discrimination may also occur when employees are required to abandon or adopt a religious practice as a condition of employment. It can also happen when applicants or employees face unwelcome remarks based on their religion (or lack of it). 

Religious Harassment Laws

It is illegal to harass an employee because of their religion. The harasser can be the victim’s supervisor or a supervisor in another area. It can also be a co-worker or customer. 

Harassment can include offensive remarks about a person’s religious beliefs or practices. Simple teasing or isolated incidents are not considered harassment, since it is usually not severe. It is only illegal when it is so frequent that it creates a hostile or offensive work environment. 

A hostile work environment is when an employee is subject to severe, ongoing intimidation and insult based on their religious beliefs. To prove that a hostile work environment exists, an employee must show that:

  • The employee was harassed based on their religion
  • The harassment was unwelcome
  • The harassment was so severe or frequent that it made work conditions hostile or abusive
  • The employer could be held liable for the discrimination or harassment

What Employers Should Consider

An individual’s religious beliefs and viewpoints can sometimes collide with workplace events or policies. A non-Christian employee may feel offended when holiday parties are called Christmas parties or when only Christian holidays are observed at work. There may also be situations in which the employee’s own religious observances conflict with the workplace. A co-worker may make derogatory comments about religion. 

Being open to the religion of others is a great opportunity for employers to provide a welcoming workplace, especially when they are trying to attract top talent. The truth is that while not everyone is considered religious, pretty much everyone has a viewpoint on religion or spirituality. By managing these points of view with respect, employers can create a culture where employees are happy and productive. Plus, it makes legal compliance much easier.

Reasonable Accommodations

For the most part, the law requires employers to reasonably accommodate an employee’s religious beliefs or practices. This means employers should be prepared to make reasonable adjustments that will allow employees to practice their religion in the work environment. Some examples of common religious accommodations include shift swaps or substitutions, flexible scheduling, job reassignments, and modifications to workplace policies.

Reasonable accommodations also apply to things such as dress or grooming practices that an employee observes for religious reasons. Some examples may include head coverings or religious dress (such as a Muslim headscarf or Jewish yarmulke) or wearing religious hairstyles or facial hair (such as Sikh hair and beard). Also, some religions prohibit women to wear certain clothing, such as pants or miniskirts, so a woman may dress in a fashion that is in agreement with her religion.

When an employee or applicant needs a reasonable accommodation for their religious practices, they should notify the employer. For example, if you need time off to attend church or pray, you should let your employer know about the work schedule conflict. You can ask for a change in a workplace rule so that you can engage in a religious practice without conflicting with your work obligations.

Most religious accommodations do not require any monetary or administrative burdens. Usually, your employer can allow you to use your breaks or lunch for prayer. Employers must give time off for holy days such as the Sabbath or holy days unless the employee’s presence is critical to the company on any given day. 

Whether or not your employer can accommodate your request will depend upon the nature of the work and the workplace. In these cases, the accommodation may pose an undue hardship for the company.

Undue Hardship

An employer is not legally required to accommodate an employee’s religious beliefs or practices if it would cause undue hardship to do so. An accommodation may cause undue hardship if it is:

  • Costly. Reasonable accommodation should cost little to no money. Having to hire additional staff, for example, would be an undue hardship. 
  • Compromises workplace safety. Workplaces should always be safe, regardless of religion.
  • Decreases workplace efficiency. Reasonable accommodation should not negatively impact productivity. 
  • Infringes on the rights of other employees. Other employees should not have to give up their rights due to one employee’s religion. 
  • Requires other employees to do extra work. The number of work employees have should be fair regardless of religion.

Contact Our Chicago Religious Discrimination Attorney 

There are many situations in which an employee’s religious beliefs can interfere with the workplace and their schedule. If an employee has faced discrimination due to their religion, then they should take legal action. The Chicago religious discrimination attorneys from North Suburban Legal Service, LLC can let you know whether or not you have a valid claim. Schedule a consultation by calling (312) 909-6089.




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