Discrimination Prevention: Understand your employees’ religious rights.

Had you been a secret service officer sworn to protect the safety of the President of the United States, you probably would have made the same mistake. At least that’s what secret service officers are saying after they ejected a 20-year-old Duke University student from a recent White House meeting. Most college students would not have been singled out so easily, but based on his appearance, Abdullah Arian was immediately suspected of terrorist connections.

Misinformation fueled by the Hollywood industry, and simple lack of education are causing similar knee-jerk reactions by some employers when they are approached by employees who request special accommodations because of their religious beliefs. Employers need to understand the provisions of Title VII so that the risk for religious discrimination can be eliminated.

This federal law, which applies to all employers with more than fifteen employees, prohibits discrimination on the basis of religion. When a worker’s employment responsibilities infringe upon his religious devotion, the employer must make reasonable accommodations, for example, providing an alternate work schedule for an employee opposed to working on his faith’s “Sabbath.”

Requiring a Muslim employee to shave his beard could be considered religious discrimination, and so could failing to accommodate his schedule of ritual prayers. You would be discriminating if you required an employee to remove a ring or necklace that had a religious symbol, unless your dress code prohibited jewelry of all types. There are also some touchy protections regarding employees’ religious speech.

According to the Equal Opportunity Commission, an employer can claim undue hardship when accommodating an employee’s religious practices if allowing such practices requires more than ordinary administrative costs.

A Professional Employer Organization’s Human Resources team is available to help you sort out any difficulties that develop as part of your employees’ religious beliefs. Generally, employers who take the time to be educated about their employees’ religious beliefs have little difficulty understanding how to be accommodating.