Top Religious Discrimination Attorneys Reply: Can my boss make me take off my hijab at work because my co-workers are uncomfortable? Can my job prevent me from wearing religious items? Does my employer have to grant my request for a reasonable accommodation for my religion?
One of the best things about living in America is the ability and freedom to pursue what we want, to be who we want to be, and to worship how we want to worship (or not). Our country is a society built on freedom. There are so many important rights that are afforded to us as Americans, but perhaps none is more important than our right to freedom of religion. It’s a right guaranteed by the First Amendment to the Constitution to every American. The highest law in the land. It prevents our government from forcing every person within the U.S. to practice one, particular religion.
In 2017, this study found that roughly half (48 percent) report of Muslims in America say they have experienced at least one instance of religious discrimination in the past year. Whether that be treated with suspicion, singled out at the airport, called offensive names, selectively profiled by law enforcement, physically threatened, or even attacked because of their faith, Muslims say these types of discrimination have increased. Sadly, according to this study, half of Muslims say that it is becoming more difficult to be Muslim in the U.S.
It’s truly a sad time in history when religious minorities feel like they are unsafe or uncomfortable where they live, going about their everyday life. The good news is that the laws that protect Muslims and other religious minorities while at work, have not changed. Regardless of public perception of any given religion, it’s illegal to fire someone based on their religion, or lack of religion. In the same way that Religious Freedom is protected and shielded from government interference, federal and state laws protect employees from illegal workplace discrimination based on their religious beliefs.
Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 makes it unlawful for employers with at least 15 employees from discriminating against employees based on race, color, religion, sex, and national origin. In Ohio, workers are further protected from religious discrimination and religion-based harassment under Ohio under R.C. § 4112.02(A). Under these, employment discrimination laws, it’s illegal to treat applicants or employees differently based on their religious beliefs or practices, in any aspect of employment, including recruitment, hiring, assignments, discipline, promotion, and benefits. These same laws also apply to prevent your boss, manager or supervisor from discriminating against you based on your race/color, gender/sex, national origin, age, and disability.
Title VII and Ohio employment discrimination laws protect all aspects of religious observance and practice. Religion includes traditional, organized religions such as Christianity, Judaism, Hinduism, Buddhism and Islam. What people may not realize is that the law also covers religious beliefs that are new, uncommon or may not be a part of a formal church, but instead recognized and practiced by a small number of people. This law also protects people who are discriminated against for their lack of religious belief – atheist or agnostic.
Our employment discrimination lawyers have previously blogged about religious work accommodations as required under the federal and Ohio law. (See Can I Sue My Employer For Not Accommodating My Religious Dress? I Need A Lawyer!; Can I Sue if I Was Fired Because Of My Religion? I Need The Best Lawyer Reply!; Can I Sue A Religious Employer For Employment Discrimination? I Need A Lawyer!; and Can My Boss Fire Me If She Thinks I’m A Certain Religion But I’m Not? I Need An Employment Lawyer!) Unfortunately, discriminatory employers keep giving our employment lawyers more examples to blog about.
A Muslim woman, Keseandra Brooks, sued her former employer, Hanover Health Facility because she was fired for wearing her hijab at work. Brooks had worn her hijab to work for three months before she was asked to take it off. Let’s get a little further into the details of this employment discrimination case.
Brooks worked as a certified nursing assistant at Hanover Health for 10 months. About five months after Brooks started working for Hanover Health, she converted to Islam. Brooks made the decision to start wearing the hijab to work. The decision to start wearing a religious symbol at work is profoundly personal and is done so to display devotion and comply with deeply held religious beliefs. Then, out of the blue, Brooks was called to a meeting with the director of nursing. On January 4, 2017, the director of nursing told Brooks to remove her hijab or she would be fired. Essentially, Hanover Health asked Brooks to choose between her faith and her job.
The manager said that the hijab posed a safety and security threat because the loose hanging fabric could be grabbed or pulled by clients. Brooks tried to mitigate her boss’ concerns. She said that she could wrap the hijab differently so that it would be tightly wrapped around her head and neck so that patients could not grab or pull on her hijab. Of course, this ignores that many workers employed at the facility wore loose fitting cloths of a non-religious nature. Certainly, not every employee was wearing skin tight spandex. Employment lawyers call these lies told by employer “pretext.”
Instead of engaging in a conversation to figure out if a religious accommodation could be granted, Brooks’ supervisor again told her to choose between her hijab and her job as an assistant nurse. Brooks was faced with an impossible choice and was forced to resign the same day. Even though Brooks resigned, she is not foreclosed from bringing a wrongful termination claim. By putting the employee in this untenable situation, the employer essentially forced the employee to quit. In the world of employment law, our attorneys refer to this as a constructive discharged. Having been constructively discharged, the employee has the same rights as an employee that was wrongfully fired from her job.
Brooks took the best course of action and got qualified employment lawyers involved. As a result, this case ultimately settled out of court. Often with settlements, plaintiffs must sign a non-disclosure agreement. The world will probably never know how much money Hanover health had to pay Brooks because of the non-disclosure, but one thing is certain: Hanover health broke the law when it required Brooks to remove her hijab without engaging in a dialogue to explore reasonable accommodations.
Employers can’t automatically refuse to accommodate an applicant or employee’s religious garb or grooming practice if it would violate the employer’s policy or preference regarding how employees should look. When an employer’s dress and grooming policy or preference conflicts with an employee’s known religious beliefs or practices, the employer must make an exception to allow the religious practice unless it would be an undue hardship on the operation of the employer’s business. Undue hardship means “more than de minimis” cost or burden on the operation of the employer’s business. There is no undue hardship if the boss denies the request because he or she is worried that the accommodation will make other employees jealous. Also, customer preference does not support a claim of undue hardship.
some common examples of religious accommodations are when employees ask for an exception to their company’s dress code or grooming policies. For instance, when a Pentecostal Christian woman requests to wear long skirts to work instead of pants, or a Jewish man who wears a yarmulke to work, these are all examples of common religious accommodations that employers frequently must grant. (See Top Employment Law Attorney: Do Not File With The EEOC Without Doing This First; File With The EEOC Or Get A Lawyer? Call The Right Attorney; Should I Get A Lawyer To Help Me File An EEOC Charge?; and Should I File With The EEOC On My Own? Call The Right Attorney).
It may have been the case that the patients she was working with expressed discomfort being treated by a professional wearing a hijab. First of all, this is abhorrent behavior. It’s always sad and disheartening to see people close themselves off from others just because they are a little different or have different beliefs. After all, America is supposed to be a cultural melting pot. Diversity should be celebrated, not scorned. Second, IT. DOESN’T. MATTER. Patients can refuse to be cared for by an assistant nurse who wears a hijab, however, her employer could not fire her based on patient preference. Indeed, our employment discrimination attorneys just blogged about this in a race discrimination context (Can My Job Give In To Patients’ No Blacks Demands?).
The main take away from Brooks’ case is that employers must try to explore different reasonable accommodations for religious reasons and cannot flat out refuse without engaging in a dialogue. Hanover Health’s big mistake is that they did not make any effort to accommodate Brooks. Brooks expressed that she could wear her hijab in a slightly different way to alleviate safety concerns, but Hanover was unwilling to discuss the matter at all. This is illegal. Unfortunately, religious discrimination in the workplace is increasing. But, the employment discrimination lawyers at The Spitz Law Firm are here to help. Our attorneys are passionate about pursuing justice for all. There is separation of church and state, and likewise the separation of church and work should be preserved. Employers cannot and should not use their personal religious bias to make decisions regarding someone’s employment.
It’s fundamentally unfair when a boss holds the power to control another individual’s livelihood but abuses that power and terminates an employee based on factors completely out of the employee’s control. We, as Americans, all deserve the same chance to succeed at work, regardless of our own personal beliefs and how that may conflict with our supervisor’s personal beliefs.
If you feel that you are being discriminated or harassed based on your religion or religious beliefs or that you were wrongfully terminated because of you are Jewish, Muslim, Mormon, Hindu or any other religion, the best course of action you can take is to call the right attorney to schedule a free and confidential consultation. At The Spitz Law Firm, you will meet with a religious discrimination attorney, who will be able to tell you what your legal rights are and the best way to protect them. Call our office at 866-797-6040.
The materials available at the top of this religious discrimination blog and at this employment law website are for informational purposes only and not for the purpose of providing legal advice. If you are still asking, “How do I ask for a religious accommodation at work?”, “What should I do if I was fired today because of my religious beliefs?”, “Can my boss discriminate against me because I’m (Jewish/Muslim/Mormon/Hindu)?” or “I was fired for in retaliation for reporting religious discrimination to HR – can I sue for wrongful termination?” The best answer to “What can I do?”, is to contact an Ohio attorney to obtain advice with respect to any particular religious discrimination or other employment law issue or problem. Use and access to this employment law website or any of the links contained within the site do not create an attorney-client relationship. The legal opinions expressed at or through this site are the opinions of the individual lawyer and may not reflect the opinions of The Spitz Law Firm, Brian Spitz, or any individual attorney.
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