For a great many people, religion is a deeply intense, very personal, and vitally important part of their lives. To foster that, both federal and New Jersey law protect workers when their religious practice intersects with their employment. An employer who uses the threat of (or actually imposes) an adverse employment action because you engaged in a religious practice is an employer who may have violated the New Jersey Law Against Discrimination (LAD) and may owe you compensation. If that has happened to you, you should get in touch with an experienced New Jersey religious discrimination lawyer about your situation.
D.R., a general manager for a multinational consumer goods company who worked at the company’s North American headquarters in Englewood Cliffs, was someone who alleged that that kind of religious discrimination happened to him, according to a New York Post report.
In 2019, the manager, who is Jewish, sought out his supervisor in advance of two of his religion’s high holy days — Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur — seeking approval of time off from work. According to D.R.’s lawsuit, the supervisor told him that “he could not take off for Rosh Hashanah and probably not for Yom Kippur as well.”
D.R. allegedly stressed to his supervisor that not working on those high holy days was mandatory as part of his religious practice, but the supervisor still said no. When the first day of Rosh Hashanah came in late September, the manager did not attend work. He did, however, send an email to higher-level supervisors, explaining his situation and his supervisor’s responses, and also pointing out that denying him leave for these religious holidays was against the law in New Jersey, according to the Post report.
According to the lawsuit, an in-house attorney replied and told him she would contact the company’s Human Resources team. The next day, the employer allegedly fired D.R. over the telephone based upon his having failed to show up without proper leave approval.
The Law of Accommodation of Religious Practice in New Jersey
So, was this fired employee correct that the denial of leave to observe Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur was against the law in New Jersey?
The answer is: potentially yes. Back in 2007, the state legislature enacted a new law, which went into effect in January 2008, that gave employees seeking workplace accommodations for their religious practices much greater protection under the LAD. This amendment to the LAD obligated employers to provide a reasonable accommodation for an employee’s “sincerely held religious observance and practice.”
The Division on Civil Rights is very clear about what a reasonable accommodation entails, stating that an “employer must also permit an employee to take time off for a sincerely held religious practice, such as a Sabbath or other holy day.” The only exception to that is if the employer can demonstrate that permitting that time off would create an undue hardship for the business.
Reasonable accommodations in this regard can take many different forms. It might be simply a matter of approving paid time off (PTO) for the absences occurring on those holy days, or it might be a matter of approving a swap of shifts with another worker who has similar job duties but a different work schedule.
The Accommodation Requirement Goes Beyond Just Time Off for Holy Observances
D.R.’s case centered on time off from work on high holy days. As a worker, you should know that the LAD also protects your religious practice in other ways, too. For example, if your employer has a restrictive dress code policy when it comes to facial hair but your religion mandates the wearing of a beard, you potentially can obtain an accommodation exempting you from this policy. Again, the employer must accommodate your religious practice unless it can show that doing so would impose an undue burden on the business.
Furthermore, you don’t have to be a member of a major religion to be entitled to protections against religious discrimination. Both the LAD and the federal law (Title VII) provide similar protection in terms of covering a wide array of faiths, religions, and spiritual beliefs. Although not a New Jersey case, the U.S. Army a few years ago approved a religious exemption for a soldier who sought to wear a beard as a mandatory part of observing his Norse pagan beliefs.
Finally, you should be aware the LAD can protect you even if you work for a very small employer. While Title VII protects you only if your employer has 15 or more employees, the LAD can protect your right to practice your religion no matter how few employees your employer has.
For a lot of people, their faith is the most important thing in their lives. Here in New Jersey, the state recognizes this by providing broad protection against workplace discrimination based on your religious observances or practices. If that happens to you, do not delay in reaching out to the skilled New Jersey religious discrimination attorneys at Phillips & Associates. We have extensive experience helping observant people in the workplace, and we’re ready to get to work for you. Contact us online or at (609) 436-9087 today to set up a free and confidential consultation.