Employers: Do You Understand Your Duty of Religious Accommodation?

What Does “Discrimination in Employment” Mean?

I suspect most people know that it is illegal for employers to engage in several forms of workplace discrimination.

The Civil Rights Act of 1964 prohibits discrimination on the basis of race, color, religion, sex or national origin.

The American with Disabilities Act of 1990 extended this protection to persons with disabilities.

Many states and some larger cities have further expanded the definition of discrimination.

These anti-discrimination provisions apply to most private employers.

Must Private Employers Accommodate their Religious Employees?

There is a myth that the U.S. Constitution requires “separation of church and state.”  One will search in vain to find that phrase or even the concept in the Constitution.

The First Amendment does prohibit the government from establishing an official “Church of the U.S.,” in the way there is an official Church of England.  It also forbids the government from prohibiting the free exercise of religion.

One consequence of this misunderstanding is that private employers sometimes neglect their duty to accommodate their religious employees.

How Should an Employer Provide Religious Accommodations?

The U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission has helpful guidance at https://www.eeoc.gov/laws/guidance/what-you-should-know-workplace-religious-accommodation

The EEOC explains that employment discrimination based on religion: “…includes refusing to accommodate an employee’s sincerely held religious beliefs or practices unless the accommodation would impose an undue hardship (more than a minimal burden on operation of the business). A religious practice may be sincerely held by an individual even if newly adopted, not consistently observed, or different from the commonly followed tenets of the individual’s religion.

The Commission further explains that: “Title VII defines ‘religion’ very broadly. It includes traditional, organized religions such as Christianity, Judaism, Islam, Hinduism, and Buddhism. It also includes religious beliefs that are new, uncommon, not part of a formal church or sect, or only held by a small number of people.”

Finally, the guidance includes several examples of common religious accommodations sought in the workplace.


Remember to engage in an interactive dialogue with an employee who requests (or seems to be requesting) a religious accommodation.

Please consult with an employment law expert who is licensed in your state for help with religious accommodations.

Thank you!

Michael Oswald



Please note: the above post contains educational information. It is not intended as legal advice. Engage an attorney who is licensed in your state to get advice on dealing with any specific legal issue.

© 2021 Michael S. Oswald

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