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New Jersey Religion and Creed Discrimination

Freedom of religion is a quintessential American value, guaranteed in both the United States and New Jersey Constitutions.  Yet, religious intolerance remains far too prevalent, particularly in the workplace.  People are commonly denied jobs because they are of the wrong “religion” or fired because they are too religious or not religious enough.  Employees are stereotyped or harassed because of their religious beliefs, particularly when they seem foreign or “weird,” and they are denied accommodations for their religious practices such as wearing a hijab or al-khimar, or a yarmulke or tichel, or denied time off for religious observance on a holiday or Sabbath.  Fortunately, discrimination on the basis of religion is prohibited under both state and federal law, and victims have the right to bring a lawsuit for money damages.

There are three main ways the law protects religious freedom in the workplace. It prohibits discrimination in hiring or in the terms or conditions of employment; it outlaws religious harassment that creates a hostile work environment, and it requires employers to provide reasonable accommodations for employees’ sincerely held religious beliefs.

Religious or Creed Discrimination.  Both state and federal law prohibit employment discrimination based religion or creed.  Thus, your employer cannot discriminate against you because you belong to a certain faith or have certain religious beliefs; because you are married to someone of a particular religion, because you are perceived as belonging to a particular religion, or because you are an atheist or agnostic.  You have the right to apply for and be fairly considered for any job opening or promotion, and your employer cannot terminate you, demote you, or otherwise treat you differently in terms of pay or any other benefits.

Religious Harassment. Sometimes religious discrimination in the workplace does not involve a tangible job action like a termination, but comes in the form of abusive language or stereotyping from a coworker or supervisor, such as referring to a Muslim employee as a “terrorist.” This type of religious harassment is unlawful when it occurs regularly or is serious enough to render the workplace hostile or abusive. An illegal hostile work environment might also occur if a nonreligious employee is subject to evangelizing or other unwelcome religious practices.

But it is important to note that a harassment claim is not usually brought against the individual harasser, but against the employer for negligence allowing the abuse to happen.  If you are subject to religious harassment in the workplace, it is therefore important to make a complaint to a supervisor or human resources, preferably in writing.  This gives the employer the opportunity to protect you from further harassment by disciplining the harasser or removing him from your work environment. If your employer knows you are being harassed, and does not take action to end it, you may have a hostile environment claim against your supervisor.

Reasonable Accommodations. The law also requires an employer to make reasonable accommodations for an employee’s religious practices or observances. Examples of such accommodations would be things like modifying a dress code to permit a Sikh employee to wear his turban and beard, or to rearrange a work schedule to permit a Jewish employee to take the day off for Yom Kippur. An employer is required to make such accommodations unless the employer can demonstrate that they would impose an undue hardship on the employer’s business. Once an employee requests a religious accommodation, it is up to both the employer and the employee to work together to see if arrangements can be made for an accommodation.

How we can help. If you believe you have been the victim of religious discrimination in the workplace, have suffered religious harassment, or if your employer has denied your request for what you believe is a reasonable religious accommodation, you may have the right to file a lawsuit against your employer for money damages. It is a good idea for you to speak to an experienced employment lawyer as soon as possible. At Lawrence & Gerges, we have experience representing victims of religious discrimination and offer free consultations at our Springfield New Jersey offices.  As always, if you are comfortable with us, and we believe you have a strong enough case, we will be willing to represent you on a contingent fee basis, meaning we will not ask you for any money up front, and will only get paid if and when we recover money for you.