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Religion and the workplace could lead to discrimination lawsuits

We've all read about various workplace discrimination cases, but there may soon be a rise in religious claims in the workplace as employees have become more knowledgeable of their rights. This could be tough to navigate for some employers and accommodating employees could raise challenges within their companies.

According to the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, there were approximately 4,151 religious discrimination claims filed with the agency during 2011, which represented a 9.5 percent increase from the previous year. In general, religious claims have steadily increased since 2005.

The data reveals that the biggest issues in regards to religious discrimination claims are accommodating employees who want to take time off for the Sabbath and Muslim women's requests to wear head coverings while on the job.

The commission believes that there are steps that employers should take to address the religious issues, just as they have had to address other discrimination issues like sexual harassment, racial harassment and age discrimination. A more tolerant environment and improved training could help avoid potential discrimination suits, but it will fall solely to the employer to take steps to address this. They need to be aware that they may need to accommodate employees on a religious basis and shouldn't wait until an employee brings it up.

Many feel that the increased discrimination claims are a reflection of the growing religious diversity that exists in the United States and the workplace. Religious groups are also becoming aware that they have rights in the workplace and are becoming more vocal about asserting those rights.

It will become a balance for employers to accommodate religious requests while still running their business. Communication could help avoid potential resentment from other employees for the special treatment they may perceive that these workers are getting.

If you are a federal employee seeking counsel for discrimination in the workplace, you should speak with an attorney that understands how cases are handled in the federal sector as opposed to the private sector. Your attorney understands the process that a federal employee needs to go through in a discrimination case and the importance of the investigation. They will guide you through the process and work to resolve the issue in your best interest.

Source: Business Insurance, "Religious discrimination claims in the workplace rising," Judy Greenwald, Feb. 12, 2012

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