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Religious discrimination can start before the job does

A lawsuit between four Sikh truckers in California and a trucking company was settled recently, in favor of the drivers. The issue? The four men could not comply with two of J.B. Hunt Transport Services Inc.'s hiring requirements: removing their turbans in public and pulling out hair samples to provide for drug testing. The Sikh faith prohibits both practices, so the observant workers had to choose between following their beliefs-or losing out on a job. They chose the latter, giving up recently acquired-and needed-positions.

In such cases, employers are required to accommodate a person's religious beliefs by offering a separate option to achieve the same result: different methods of drug testing are available (fingernail clippings offer the same historic information on drug use), In addition, turbans (or other head coverings) do not need to be removed in the presence of others-a reasonable accommodation must be made for anyone who states that a request conflicts with their religious beliefs.

While J.B. Hunt could have reasonably accommodated their potential Sikh employees, in this case it appears that they did not. They did not accept liability in the case, but they did agree to rectify their hiring practices, provide monetary compensation ($260,000 to be split four ways) and also offer the men new jobs at the company (which they've declined thus far).

Religious discrimination in the workplace is covered by Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964. Employers with more than 15 employees are prohibited from:

  • Treating employees or applicants in a different way because of their religious beliefs or practices, in everything from recruiting and on-boarding to salary and promotions
  • Harassing employees due to their religious beliefs or practices (and, notably, those of their relatives or friends)
  • Rejecting an employee's request for a reasonable accommodation to be made
  • Retaliating against someone who has reported the above discriminatory practices to their human resources department or the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission

Have you witnessed religious discrimination in your place of work? Have you yourself been subjected to discrimination on the basis of your religious beliefs or practices? Despite the press coverage a large case like this one gets, discrimination happens more often than people want to acknowledge. Know your rights in the workplace. If yours have been violated, speak with an attorney experienced in employment law who will work on your behalf to right the situation.

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