Happy Holidays and Season’s Greetings! Here’s Some Reminders About Workplace Religious Discrimination that the Holiday Season Can Provide

December represents a time of great celebration for adherents of a wide variety of religions. Most people are keenly familiar with some celebrations (like Christmas and Hanukkah) and probably less so with others (like Bodhi Day and Yule). What all of these have in common is that they occur in conjunction with various religions — religions whose adherents, regardless of their numbers, are entitled to protection from workplace religious discrimination. Whether you’re Christian, Jewish, Muslim, a member of a smaller religion, or an atheist, you shouldn’t be judged at work by your beliefs and, if you have been so harmed, you should get in touch with a knowledgeable New York religious discrimination lawyer.

As religious adherents enter into seasonal celebrations, some may need workplace accommodations to allow them to meet their religious obligations. Some issues of religious discrimination and workplace accommodations are clear.

For example, if you’re an Orthodox Jew or a Christian in the Seventh Day Adventist Church, you have special Sabbath-related requirements that restrict the hours you are available for work on Saturdays and some Friday evenings in the winter. Unless the employer has a reasonable basis for believing your religious practice is “insincere,” then the employer must make reasonable accommodations as long as those accommodations don’t create an unfair burden on the employer’s business.

While the law is pretty clear when it comes to things like accommodating Christians’ and Jews’ Sabbath obligations, what if you’re a follower of a smaller religion? What if you’re like the fictional baseball player Pedro Cerrano (who practiced in a Santeria-like religion that involved worshipping “Jobu”)? Would your religious accommodation rights entitle you to maintain your shrine to Jobu in your work locker if you played for one of the New York teams?

Minor Religions May Be Covered…

The answer is: potentially yes. The definition of religious practice is a broad one and encompasses more religions than you might expect. A few years ago, then-District Judge (and current Supreme Court Justice) Sonia Sotomayor ruled in favor of two New York plaintiffs who sought an accommodation of their religious practice; specifically, their wearing of Santeria beads. (Santeria, commonly associated with voodoo by non-adherents, is an Afro-Caribbean religion with a relatively small number of practitioners.)

Santeria’s obscurity wasn’t the key, however. In a lot of cases, the crux of the matter comes down to the sincerity of the religious person’s beliefs. Partly because the defense did not even dispute the sincerity of the men’s beliefs, the men were entitled to the accommodation of their Santeria practices. While the plaintiffs were two Sing Sing inmates, the standards the court’s opinion announced would apply similarly to the accommodation of a smaller religion in a workplace setting, too.

Be aware that anything that the court decides is a “parody” generally will not trigger an obligation to accommodate. For example, take Festivus. Festivus is an observance that resists “the pressures and commercialism of the Christmas season,” according to Wikipedia. Festivus might qualify as a parody and, if so, your employer would not be required to accommodate your need to air grievances or engage in feats of strength.

But a lot of non-mainstream practices could be covered. Back in 2016, a federal District Court judge in Brooklyn addressed the question of whether something called “Onionhead” was merely a “multi-purpose conflict resolution tool” or was a religion. The court said that, for a set of beliefs to be a religion, they need to be both “sincerely held” and also “in the believer’s ‘own scheme of things, religious.'” That’s true even if the asserted religion is not “acceptable, logical, consistent, or comprehensible to others,” or is even downright “preposterous” to non-adherents.

… And Lesser Variants of Major Religions May Be, As Well

What’s more, non-traditional variants of traditional religions may be entitled to accommodation, as well. Several years ago, a case came before a federal District Court judge here in New York involving plaintiffs who practiced a type of Christianity wherein Social Security cards were forbidden because, under their theology, Social Security numbers were “a device of the Antichrist” and, if you had one, it could be a bar to entering Heaven.

The fact that 99%+ of Christians do not adhere to this teaching didn’t matter. The belief was religious in nature and sincerely held, therefore entitled to accommodation.

Whether your search for the divine has led you to Christianity, Judaism, Hinduism, Islam, Baha’ism, Zoroastrianism, Jainism, or something your bosses have never heard of, you are entitled under New York law to be free of discrimination at work due to the practice of your sincere religious beliefs. If you have endured such reprisals, you can take legal action and may be entitled to recover compensation. Get in touch with the knowledgeable New York religious discrimination attorneys at Phillips & Associates. Contact us online or at (866) 229-9441 today to set up a free and confidential consultation and find out how we can help you.

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