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Your right to religious accommodations at work

You practice a religion that requires you to avoid working on specific religious holidays, wear various traditional clothing or pray at various times of the day. Due to your religious practices, you would require your employer to make alterations to the employee handbook regarding your uniform dress and your working hours, as well as make arrangements to allow you to pray during the work day.

In California, you have the right to reasonable accommodations from your employer. Religion falls into a category of protected classes under the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC), and your employer’s refusal could constitute discrimination, and it may face legal consequences. Know that if you practice a religion that requires company accommodations, you may hold the right to enforce these alterations in your workplace.

Religious practices and accommodations

Under EEOC regulations, religion could mean a variety of practices that are:

  • Traditional
  • Common
  • New
  • Unusual; or
  • Only practiced by a few individuals

These designations are extremely important. The EEOC does not require proof of your practice or reasonings, as religion is a protected class, and you need not provide detailed information regarding any of the protected classes including age, race or ethnic background.

The most common alterations and exceptions that employers make for employees include the following examples.

  1. Offering a prayer space for employees
  2. Changing a specific dress code for employees (as long as the safety of the employee is not compromised)
  3. Giving unpaid or paid vacation on an employee’s religious holiday
  4. Offering vegetarian or vegan options for company-paid lunches
  5. Not holding meetings during specific prayer hours

Religious accommodations cannot bring undue hardship

According to the EEOC, all companies are required to provide reasonable accommodations in the workplace for various religious practices as long as the accommodations do not bring the business “undue hardship”. Undue hardship is classified as more than a small burden on business practices.

When determining whether a burden would constitute an undue hardship for a company, the company may look at how much the accommodations would cost, if anything. A company is not likely to make accommodations that would violate safety regulations, such as wearing dangerous clothing in a manufacturing room. A company may even change the job duties or transfer the role of an employee to another part of the business.

It is essential, if you deal with an employer that you feel discriminates against you by not providing simple accommodations for your religion, that you hire an experienced attorney. Employment law attorneys have years of experience determining whether a case will prove valid in court and determining compensation for your employment losses.

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It can be hard to take the first steps in these cases when your livelihood is at stake, but know that you have rights available to you. Let us help you determine what you can do to bring an end to your employer's unlawful behavior.