Employers Struggle to Protect Employees’ Rights

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<p><strong>Philadelphia &mdash; June 19</strong><br />As the legal definition of religion continues to evolve, it&#39;s becoming more challenging for employers to protect employees&#39; rights to be free from religious discrimination while at work, according to Pepper Hamilton LLP, a multipractice law firm.<br /><br />&quot;The legal definition of religion is changing,&quot; said Robert Ludolph, a partner at Pepper Hamilton LLP. &quot;The U.S. Supreme Court has defined religion as &#39;a sincere and meaningful belief which occupies, in the life of the possessor, a place parallel to that filled by God.&#39; Under this test, courts take a functional approach toward religion and ask whether a belief &#39;functions as&#39; religion in the life of employees.<br /><br />&quot;Under the Supreme Court&#39;s test, a belief system does not require a concept of God, supreme being or afterlife, or have to derive from any outside source. As a result, purely &#39;moral and ethical beliefs&#39; can be considered religious, so long as they are held with strength of religious convictions.&quot; <br /><br />Title VII of the U.S. Civil Rights Act of 1964 defines religion as all aspects of religious observance and practice, as well as belief.&nbsp; </p><p>&quot;It is wise to assume that any sincere belief system &mdash; no matter how political it may appear &mdash; can, and probably does, fall within the broad definition of religion,&quot; Ludolph said.<br /><br />Among the religions that employers may deem unconventional but need to recognize include:<br /></p><ul><li>Wicca, the secretive and exclusive society of religious witchcraft.</li><li>Asatru, a religious movement that focuses on reviving the Norse paganism of the Viking Age.</li><li>Creationism, where followers interpret the Bible literally and believe life, Earth, humanity and the universe were created entirely by a God whose existence is presupposed.</li></ul><p>With such a broad definition of religion, what&#39;s an employer to do?&nbsp; </p><p>&quot;The short answer is: Tread lightly,&quot; Ludolph said.<br /><br />For employees to successfully claim unfair treatment based on religious affiliation, they must establish that:<br /></p><ul><li>They practice and/or are a member of a particular religion.</li><li>They were qualified for their current or potential job.</li><li>They were subject to adverse employment action.</li><li>Similarly situated employees outside of their religious class were treated more favorably.</li><li>Employers were aware of the employee&#39;s religious beliefs and imposed an adverse employment action because of those beliefs.</li></ul><p>&quot;Employers are required to reasonably accommodate an employee&#39;s religion,&quot; Ludolph said. &quot;Employers must prove that that they could not reasonably accommodate an employee&#39;s religious beliefs without incurring undue hardship to the business.&quot;<br /><br />Additionally, employers must protect employees against unwelcome proselytizing and harassment by co-workers.&nbsp; </p><p>&quot;To hold an employer liable for harassment, employees must show that the employer knew, or should have known, of the harassment, and failed to take prompt and proper action to correct the problem,&quot; Ludolph said.</p><p>Among the cases that have been filed charging religious discrimination by employers are:<br /></p><ul><li>A male truck driver, terminated after refusing an overnight run with a female driver, claimed such a working arrangement violated his belief that &quot;the Bible commands that a Christian should avoid the appearance of evil.&quot;&nbsp; A U.S. appeals court disagreed, however, finding that excluding the driver from such runs would constitute an undue hardship for the employer because it would violate seniority provisions of the union&#39;s collective bargaining agreement, as well as negatively affect the shift and job preferences of other employees.</li><li>A Michigan agnostic claimed that his pay, job assignments and promotions depended on attending his employer&#39;s church of choice.</li><li>A female employee accused her employer of creating a hostile work environment after she was frequently invited by her supervisor to attend his church so that &quot;she may feel the altar call and be saved.&quot;&nbsp; The supervisor also provided the plaintiff with a copy of the Bible and other religious materials and placed a religious videotape titled &quot;Hell&#39;s Fire and Heaven&#39;s Gate&quot; in with her training materials.</li></ul><p>&nbsp;</p>

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