What religious protections govern job applicants?

Federal law protects Minnesota workers from discrimination in their hiring and employment. Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 specifically forbids a prospective employer from refusing to hire an applicant to avoid accommodating the applicant’s religious practice that could be accommodated without undue hardship. Title VII also protects workers from discrimination at the workplace because of their religion.

Employers cannot make an applicant’s religious practice a factor in their employment decisions. As one example, an employer suspects but does not know for certain that a job applicant may be an orthodox Jew who will observe the Sabbath on Saturday and thus cannot work on Saturdays. An employer violated Title VII if that applicant actually requires an accommodation of that practice and the employer makes an employment decision based on the motivating factor of avoiding that accommodation.

Title VII also prohibits employment practices that are neutral or which do not treat religious practices less favorably than secular practices. Religious practices are afforded favored treatment; employers cannot refuse to hire or discharge a person because of their religious observance and practices.

Earlier this month, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that a national clothing store chain violated Title VII when it refused to hire a job applicant who wore a headscarf because of her religious convictions on the grounds that wearing this apparel violated its employee dress policy. Even though the applicant did not inform the store of her need for a religious accommodation, the Court found that it nonetheless violated Title VII because accommodating the applicant’s religious belief was a motivating factor in the employer’s decision.

Discrimination claims are among the most difficult business disputes. Complying with federal and Minnesota laws on discrimination may be complex and require planning and ongoing training for employers and supervisors. Legal assistance can provide the knowledge for employers to accommodate their workers needs and avoid these employment disputes and litigation with regulatory agencies.

Source: U.S. Supreme Court, “Equal Opportunity Commission v. Abercrombie & Fitch Stores, Inc., 575 U.S._ (2015),” Assessed June 14, 2015

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