Employment discrimination laws prohibit employers from discriminating against employees on the basis of their religion and religious practices. Religious discrimination is prohibited by federal and Colorado employment laws enacted to give employees access to a workplace free from discrimination on the basis of immutable personal traits. In addition to other forms of discrimination against an employee’s religious beliefs, an employer may not harass an employee by creating a hostile work environment towards those beliefs. A core aspect of religious discrimination claims is that the employee’s religious beliefs are sincere beliefs, no matter what religion or dogma.
Religious discrimination occurs when the employer discriminates on the basis of the employee’s actual religion; however it can occur in other ways. An employer might discriminate against the employee’s spouse or other family member’s sincere religious beliefs. Alternatively, the employer might discriminate on the basis of a stereotype or mistake about the employee’s religious beliefs. Harassment and other forms of discrimination for any of these reasons may form a claim for religious discrimination.
Religious Harassment under federal and Colorado employment law
A hostile work environment claim is a type of harassment claim under employment discrimination laws. A hostile work environment arises when an employer creates or allows to persist offensive conduct in the workplace. Specifically a hostile work environment arises when the offensive conduct:
- Accompanies an adverse, tangible employment action by a supervisor or other individual with managerial power; or
- Is severe or pervasive such that it alters the conditions of employment for the victim.
When the offensive conduct relates to an employee’s religious beliefs, the religion of the employee’s family, or an assumption about the employee’s religious beliefs then the hostile work environment is a type of religious discrimination. Religious harassment is prohibited in the workplace under federal law (Title VII) and Colorado law (Colorado Anti-Discrimination Act).
Religious harassment can occur in many forms. Some common discriminatory conduct includes:
- Ridiculing or mocking a religious belief or practice;
- Derogatory jokes about a religion or its practices;
- Using religious slurs;
- Images, objects and messages in the workplace that are offensive to the religion;
- Posting articles or information about a religion in employee documents such as newsletters, notice boards and other office signage;
- Requiring employees to pray or perform other practices of a religion;
- Interfering with an employee’s religious practice for a non-legitimate business purpose;
- Attempting to convert employees to a belief;
- Attempting to dissuade employees from their beliefs;
- Requiring employees to discuss religious beliefs or identify their beliefs;
- Requiring employees to participate in religious discussions in the workplace; and
- Ridiculing an employee for not attending religious ceremonies or events outside of work.
Religious hostile work environment in Colorado
A hostile work environment on the basis of an employee’s religion does not require the employer to take an adverse employment action against the employee; however, it has to be more than a slight comment or mention of religion. If there is no tangible employment action related to the hostile work environment then the offensive conduct must be severe or pervasive in the workplace.
Employees do not have to sanitize their religious beliefs at the front door but they cannot use their religious beliefs to make coworkers uncomfortable about their respective beliefs. (Or lack of beliefs.) The standard is whether a reasonable person would feel offended by the conduct. It is a case-by-case analysis whether religious discrimination takes place.
Once an employer learns a hostile work environment exists it must take reasonable steps to prevent and eliminate the harassment. If the employer fails to do so then it will likely be liable for the religious hostile work environment.
Colorado hostile work environment attorney
If you believe your workplace has become a hostile work environment due to religious discrimination then you should contact a Colorado hostile work environment attorney right away. You do not have to suffer harassment in the workplace. Hostile work environment claims are complex claims due to the procedural requirements set out by statute and the courts. Employment lawyers understand these procedures and can help fight for a fair workplace.