What are my rights if I think that I have been discriminated against due to my religion?

UPDATED: Oct 1, 2022

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What are my rights if I think that I have been discriminated against due to my religion?

I worked for a company for a couple of weeks and I honestly felt treated different after they found out I was Muslim. I got employed in this company and it was like 4 black people and 15 white people and I’m black. A couple of days after my employer found out that I was Muslim, he came up and told me that I

had to cut my beard due to OSHA regulations for wearing a respirator. I told him they are 3m respirators that will not leak and OSHA certified. I even offer to trim my beard a lower so the mask could fit tighter but he said no and told me that he can’t allow it. So I had to leave but I don’t think it’s fair. They never practiced ASHA until they found out I was Muslim.

Asked on September 23, 2017 under Employment Labor Law, Texas


SJZ, Member, New York Bar / FreeAdvice Contributing Attorney

Answered 5 years ago | Contributor

Whether or not you are facing religious discrimination depends on whether there are safe respirators appropriate for this purpose which you could use *and* which would not impose significant costs (either acquisition or ongoing operational/maintenance) or other burdens on your employer.
The law requires employers to make "reasonable accommodations" to employee religious practices. "Reasonable accommodation" is a subjective standard to a large extent: there are no hand-and-fast metrics for when something is reasonable or not. The touchstone is "reasonableness": and in this context, the issue is the burden, whether economic or operational, imposed by the proposed accommodation on the employer. 
From your question, it is evident that you need a respirator for your job. You indicate that there are OSHA certfified respirators which could be used with your beard. For this answer, I will assume that said respirators, besides being OHSA certified generally, meet any specific safety needs or regulations of your job--if they do not, then it certainly would *not* be reasonable to let you use them.
If the respirators do at least in theory meet your job's requirements, the question next becomes what are the costs associated with them? For example (and since I know nothing about respirators, these are purely for the sake of illustration; kindly ignore any technical or factual errors):
1) Say that the "normal" respirator used costs $200 to acquire and $20/week on average for cleaning, recharging, etc.--whatever maintenance must be done to it. In that case:
a) If the respirator you need costs, $300 - $400 to acquire and/or $30/week to operate, it would most likely be reasonable to use it: the incrental costs is not extreme, and is a cost an employer might be expected to bear to accommodate an employee's religion.
b) Alternately, say the respirator you want costs $1,000 to acquire and has an average weekly costs of more than $50 to maintain or operate. It would likely not be reasonable to force the employer to spend 5 times as much as they normally do to buy your respirator, or and extra $1,500 per year to operate it. The difference in expense is significant.
2) Or say that the more common respirator can be done in less than a minute, but prepping and donning your respirator takes 5 minutes due to added complexity. Having to spend an extra 4 minutes each and every time the respirator goes on can disrupt operations and reduce efficiency, and therefore would very likely not be reasonable.
Therefore, you must look at the costs of all types which accommodating your beard would impose on your employer; that will largely determine if your employer had a duty to accommodate you or not. 
If you feel that, based on the above, it would have been reasonable to accommodate you, then a failure to do so may well have been illegal religious disecrimination; in that case, contact the federal EEOC about possibly filing a complaint.

IMPORTANT NOTICE: The Answer(s) provided above are for general information only. The attorney providing the answer was not serving as the attorney for the person submitting the question or in any attorney-client relationship with such person. Laws may vary from state to state, and sometimes change. Tiny variations in the facts, or a fact not set forth in a question, often can change a legal outcome or an attorney's conclusion. Although AttorneyPages.com has verified the attorney was admitted to practice law in at least one jurisdiction, he or she may not be authorized to practice law in the jurisdiction referred to in the question, nor is he or she necessarily experienced in the area of the law involved. Unlike the information in the Answer(s) above, upon which you should NOT rely, for personal advice you can rely upon we suggest you retain an attorney to represent you.

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