Anyone who remembers middle school history class knows the Pilgrims came to this country on the Mayflower in search of religious freedom. In honor of their quest, and Thanksgiving this week, it’s a good time to talk about religious freedom and religious discrimination in Ohio workplaces.
Both Ohio law and federal law prohibit discriminating against employees on the basis of religion. As a general rule, employers cannot fire, demote, refuse to hire, or otherwise treat employees unfavorably because of religion (there are exceptions for employers that are religious organizations). It does not matter whether the employee’s religion is a common one or not, as long as the employee’s beliefs are sincerely held. An employer would have to be a real turkey to run afoul of this general rule, or “afowl” of it.
Beyond the general bar on religious discrimination, it is also illegal to harass employees because of their religious beliefs or practice. Unlawful harassment might include repeated offensive remarks about the employee’s religious beliefs. In more egregious cases, it might include graffiti, vandalism, or even physical violence.
Employers are also required to make reasonable accommodations of an employee’s religious practice, unless doing so would cause more than a minimal burden on the employer’s business. Case law is stuffed with examples of employers refusing to grant religious accommodations. Some of the more common accommodations include changes in work schedules or exceptions from grooming policies and dress codes. For instance, an employer would be required to permit a Jewish employee to wear a yarmulke or a Muslim employee to wear a hijab (a religious headscarf, as we’ve previously written about on this blog), absent a workplace safety concern or other undue hardship to the business. If such a hardship is present, only then may an employer squash a request for a reasonable accommodation.
If sometime this Thursday a group of modern-day Pilgrims lands the Mayflower II at the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame on Cleveland’s North Shore, they can be thankful for a cornucopia of workplace protections against religious discrimination. Unlike the first Pilgrims though, the INS might have some questions for them if they show up unannounced.