business of Medicine


Employment Practices Toolkit

August 30, 2019

Religious Discrimination Federal Law Overview

Coverage, accommodations, harassment and more

Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 is a federal law that, among other things, prohibits employers from discriminating against individuals because of their religion (or lack of religious belief) in hiring, firing, or any other terms and conditions of employment. The law also prohibits job segregation based on religion, such as assigning an employee to a non-customer contact position because of actual or feared customer preference.

Employer Coverage

Title VII applies to employers with 15 or more employees.  Depending on the circumstances, temporary employees may need to be included to determine whether the 15 employee threshold has been met.

Reasonable Accommodations

Title VII requires employers to reasonably accommodate the religious beliefs and practices of applicants and employees, unless doing so would cause more than a minimal burden on the operation of the employer's business.  A reasonable religious accommodation is any adjustment to the work environment that will allow the employee to practice his religion. Flexible scheduling, voluntary shift substitutions or swaps, job reassignments, lateral transfers, and exceptions to dress or grooming rules are examples of accommodating an employee's religious beliefs.

Whether a particular accommodation would pose an undue hardship on the employer's business depends on the individual circumstances.  For example, an accommodation may cause undue hardship if it is costly, compromises workplace safety, decreases workplace efficiency, infringes on the rights of other employees, or requires other employees to do more than their share of potentially hazardous or burdensome work. . Undue hardship also may be shown if the request for an accommodation violates others' job rights established through a collective bargaining agreement or seniority system.

Harassment and Retaliation

Title VII also prohibits religious harassment of employees, such as offensive remarks about a person's religious beliefs or practices.  Although the law does not prohibit simple teasing, offhand comments, or isolated incidents that aren't very serious, harassment can be unlawful when it is so frequent or severe that it creates a hostile or offensive work environment or when it results in an adverse employment decision (such as the victim being fired or demoted).

It is also unlawful to retaliate against an individual for opposing employment practices that discriminate based on religion or for filing a discrimination charge, testifying, or participating in any way in an investigation, proceeding, or litigation under Title VII.

Grooming and Clothing Standards

In most instances, employers covered by Title VII must make exceptions to their usual rules or preferences to permit applicants and employees to follow religious dress and grooming practices. Examples of religious dress and grooming practices may include: wearing religious clothing or articles (e.g., a Christian cross, a Muslim hijab (headscarf), a Sikh turban, a Sikh kirpan (symbolic miniature sword)); observing a religious prohibition against wearing certain garments (e.g., a Muslim, Pentecostal Christian, or Orthodox Jewish woman's practice of wearing modest clothing, and of not wearing pants or short skirts); or adhering to shaving or hair length observances (e.g., Sikh uncut hair and beard, Rastafarian dreadlocks, or Jewish peyes (sidelocks)).

State Law

For states and cities that have different or more stringent requirements than those discussed above, those requirements must be followed.

Article created by Jackson Lewis and republished here with permission.


The information provided in this resource does not constitute legal, medical or any other professional advice, nor does it establish a standard of care. This resource has been created as an aid to you in your practice. The ultimate decision on how to use the information provided rests solely with you, the PolicyOwner.