Religious Discrimination in the Workplace

February 12, 2000

Source: The Indianapolis Star

On February 12, 2000, The Indianapolis Star published an article about religious discrimination in the workplace. According to a study released last month by the New York-based Tanenbaum Center for Interreligious Understanding, 66 percent of non-Christian religious followers believe that they have either experienced or witnessed religious discrimination while on the job, with Muslims being the most vulnerable to religious bias. Discrimination ranging from denial of time off for religious observances to dismissal for facial hair or head coverings were reported by the more than 420 participants in the study. Georgette Bennett, president of the Tanenbaum Center, contends that the problem will get worse if businesses don't provide diversity training for supervisors and employees. Bennett stated: "We are undergoing a major demographic shift in this country as fewer of our immigrants come from Europe and more and more of them come from Latin America, Asia and the Middle East...Immigrants are no longer predominantly white or Christian, and that's going to eventually be reflected in the workplace. If we don't get ahead of the curve on this, it's going to loom very large as the next great civil rights issue."

Although employers are required to grant reasonable religious accommodations for workers based on the Civil Rights Act of 1964, an employer may deny a request if it poses an "undue hardship." In addition, the U.S. Supreme Court's 1976 ruling in TWA v. Hardison allows a denial of religious accommodation even if it only causes minimal hardship to the employer. Many religious organizations are trying to pass the Workplace Religious Freedom Act through Congress, but it has yet to have a committee hearing, let alone become law.