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Religion - Discrimination and Harassment

Federal and state laws protect employees from discrimination on the basis of their religious beliefs. Discrimination can mean a termination, suspension, being passed over for a raise or promotion, being given less desirable job duties, lower quality benefits, or anything else that adversely effects the terms and conditions of a person’s employment. Once an employee complains to the employer or the appropriate government agency about what the employee believes is religious discrimination it is also illegal for the employer to retaliate against the employee for making their complaint. It is also illegal for an employer to pass over an applicant for a job position because of the employee’s religion.

Harassment of an employee on the basis of religion is also unlawful. An employee who is harassed by coworkers, supervisors, or customers on the basis of religion should report the harassment to the person(s) in management designated by the company for such complaints. The employer has a responsibility to take all appropriate actions to prevent harassment from happening in the first place and address harassment when it occurs. An employer who fails to take appropriate steps to prevent and address religious based harassment is liable for the harassment. It is unlawful for an employer to retaliate against an employee for complaining about harassment.

Federal and state laws also provide employees with the right to reasonable accommodations of their sincerely held religious beliefs. Reasonable accommodations can include, but are not limited to, days off of work for religious reasons, an opportunity to take time away from work during the day to pray, being allowed not to shave, and being allowed to wear headwear and other clothing. Whether a particular accommodation is reasonable must be determined on a case by case basis. The law requires employers and employees to work together, in good faith, in an interactive process, to determine what accommodations are reasonable. Not only are employers required to provide employees with reasonable accommodations for the employee’s sincerely held religious beliefs, employers are also prohibited from terminating or otherwise retaliating against an employee because they request a reasonable accommodation or need a reasonable accommodation.

Title VII of the federal Civil Rights Act and the state Maine Human Rights Act prohibit religious based discrimination and harassment and require employers to provide employees with reasonable accommodations for their sincerely held religious beliefs. Each of these laws has deadlines for filing a Charge of Discrimination and/or filing suit in Court. For example, the Maine Human Rights Act requires an employee to file a Charge of Discrimination within six months of the alleged discrimination and the Americans with Disabilities Act requires that an employee file a Charge of Discrimination within 300 days of the alleged discrimination.

If you are being harassed at work because of your religious beliefs, have been discriminated against in employment on the basis of religion, have been denied a reasonable accommodation for your religious beliefs, or have been retaliated against for complaining about harassment or discrimination, you should contact an experienced employment lawyer.