New Jersey has specific laws aimed to protect workers from discrimination in the workplace. However, employees may not be aware that employment protections extend to religion or creed, and that New Jersey law prohibits religious discrimination in places of public accommodation, housing, and business transactions. This means it is illegal to be treated differently, harassed, or not considered for employment or a particular job on the basis of one’s religious beliefs.
It is illegal for an employer to engage in discriminatory actions against an employee. For example, an employer may not discriminate against an employee because the worker belongs to a religious faith, is a non-believer, is associated with someone of a particular religious (such as through marriage), is perceived to be part of a religion but are not, or has moral or ethical beliefs that are held to the strength of traditional religious views. The statutory definition of religious belief is purposefully broad, as to include all potential belief systems and provide all employees with a safe and respectful work environment.
State and Federal Statutes Protect Employees from Religious Discrimination
Employees residing in New Jersey are protected against religious discrimination at work under the New Jersey Law Against Discrimination (NJLAD). Pursuant to this state statute – which, unlike the Civil Rights Act, applies to employers of all sizes – an employer cannot treat employees differently based upon their sincerely-held religious beliefs. When invoking the NJLAD, an employee may bring a private lawsuit in the Superior Courts of New Jersey or the employee may file a claim with the New Jersey Division on Civil Rights within 180 days of the alleged discrimination taking place. Before deciding to file any employment claim, whether in Superior Court or with the Division on Civil Rights, the employee should discuss the matter with an experienced employment attorney.
Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 forbids discrimination in the workplace on the basis of religion. Employers who treat members of their workforce differently depending on their religious views can be held accountable by filing a claim with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC).
Rights in the Workplace
Every employee has the right to be considered for a job without their religious beliefs factoring into the hiring decision. It is also illegal for an employer to terminate an employee, treat them differently in their terms of employment, or reduce someone’s pay based on their religious beliefs.
Under both state and federal law, employers may not demand that workers refrain from wearing certain religious garments, such as a yarmulke, unless the attire interferes with an employee’s ability to perform their job. Additionally, employers must make certain allowances to their employees with sincerely held religious beliefs. . Employees observing the Sabbath may require time off from work without pay, for example, while employees of Muslim faith may need periodic breaks to pray. Such time must be provided without punishment, unless an employer can establish that the accommodation would cause an undue hardship.
Like all forms of discrimination, religious discrimination can at times be difficult to discern. Although some instances – such as when an employer explicitly informs a prospective employee that they will not hire workers of a certain religion – are overtly discriminatory, while other adverse employment actions are more subtle in nature. Employees who are repeatedly subject to crude or derogatory remarks about their religion can argue that they have been subject to a hostile work environment. Similarly, when employees of one faith are consistently assigned less desirable work tasks or shifts than employees of a different faith, it is possible that they have been discriminated against.