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FAQs About Religious Discrimination

Should I Quit My Job Because of Religion?

NEVER make a statement such as, “I’ll quit my job before I will work on the Sabbath.” In some cases this has been construed to be a “voluntary quit.” Rather, if it is necessary, say instead, “I would have to lose my job if there was no other option but to work on the Sabbath.”

If you are coerced into signing a statement of resignation or if you quit because an employer makes conditions unbearable, redress may still be available depending on the circumstances. This is called a “constructive discharge.”  If you were forced to sign a resignation statement or any other statement you do not agree with, you may write next to or under your signature, ‘signed under protest.’

Always conduct yourself as a representative of Jesus Christ. Your witness, properly given, may lead someone else to Christ.

What Should I Do When Disciplinary Action Is Taken?

Secure a copy of the labor union contract or company work policies so that you know the procedures used for discipline and dismissal.

Never threaten court or agency action. Threats make obtaining accommodation more difficult.

If disciplinary action (such as suspension or termination) is taken, ask for written notice. If this is refused, write a note to yourself detailing the incident. Record all relevant items discussed.

If you are not given a written notice, return to work to make sure the employer has in fact dismissed you.

How Can I Negotiate an Accommodation?

Be cooperative and flexible–not arbitrary or demanding.
Request accommodation. Call us so that we can provide a letter in your behalf. It is usually more efficient for you to call us than to wait for us to call you, since you may work during the hours we are open and can call us on a break.

Give your superior time to process the request. This gives him time to look into his legal responsibility which may convince him that it is in his best interest to accommodate you.

Offer to work on Sunday, to work fewer hours if you can afford the loss in pay, to trade shifts, or to make a lateral transfer to another department.

Remember that you would not like an employee telling you how to handle your business.

If a test for employment selection is given on the Sabbath, ask for an alternate examination schedule. If an oral request is denied, put it in writing. The EEOC Guidelines specify accommodation requirements for selection examinations.

Does the Northwest Religious Liberty Association (NRLA) Initiate Court Actions?

People often expect that Northwest Religious Liberty Association (NRLA) will file a lawsuit to get a solution to religious liberty problems. Please note that although we do help the member through most initial stages of religious liberty problems, we do not have a sufficiently large budget to take every case to court. Occasionally, we do file suits but we do so only after a very careful evaluation and discussion with attorneys who are versed in Title VII law and who convince us that such a suit would be beneficial in developing good legal policy that will be helpful to people of faith in the future.

Here are some things to remember about lawsuits that you should be aware of. Religious liberty lawsuits are very expensive. Most suits involve hundreds of hours of attorney time and cost tens of thousands of dollars.

Lawsuits seldom help the employee in the short term. They generate hostility from the employer and other employees. They often take 3 to 5 years, too slow to solve most job problems. Courts are often quick to accept the “undue hardship” argument on the part of the employer, labor union, or both.

Should I Apply for Unemployment Benefits?

If you are dismissed because of religion, apply for unemployment compensation. It is important for you to say to the state agency that you were dismissed for following your religious beliefs and practices.

If unemployment compensation is denied, contact the Northwest Religious Liberty Association (NRLA).

When any unemployment agency document arrives, or if disciplinary action is taken against you, Complete the online intake and then call the Northwest Religious Liberty Association (NRLA) for further assistance. Deadlines for filing notices or appeals may be involved. Your legal right to appeal may be in danger if you delay.

Although you have a legal right to file a complaint of religious discrimination with a local, state, or federal agency, we urge you to consult with us BEFORE filing. We ask you to do this because the results in your case may have either favorable or unfavorable effects on the outcomes of other cases involving religious liberty employment issues.

What Procedures Must I Follow to Obtain Unemployment?

The following information is not designed to provide an exhaustive legal guide. Because each state is different in its unemployment laws, follow the instructions you receive from representatives of the unemployment office carefully, and read all material provided to you by that office.

If you have any questions or need assistance in receiving your unemployment benefits, complete the online intake, allow one business day for our processing, and then call the Northwest Religious Liberty Association (NRLA) for further assistance.

  • Do not leave work unless you have to. Clarify with your employer… “Am I fired?”
  • If you have not received a written notice of termination, continue to work until you are not allowed to do so. At that time, ask for a written notice rather than a verbal notice. If you are not given anything in writing, write up your own statement of fact and date it.
  • Don’t quit prematurely.
  • Clearly express your willingness to continue working.
  • Express willingness to return to work after the Sabbath closes.
  • If terminated claim unemployment benefits immediately.

What if I am Called to an Unemployment Interview?

The unemployment office may want to verify that you did not leave employment unnecessarily and may ask for a detailed explanation of why you left work, why you were not able to return to work or continue working, who told you that you could not continue working, exactly what was said. This is one reason it is important to keep detailed notes.

Common Reasons for Loss of Unemployment Benefits:

  • Failure to comply with unemployment instructions.
  • Left employment without good cause.
  • Not available for work.
  • Refused to accept suitable work.
  • Discharged for misconduct.

You must be available for work each week and you must regularly seek employment.

NOTE: Just because you were fired does not mean that you will receive unemployment benefits. You must be able to show “good cause” for leaving work. Therefore, do not quit your job. Do not resign from your job whether it is a voluntary or forced resignation.

If you are having a problem with your employer and are requested to resign, let your employer know that you have no intention of resignation. You enjoy your job with the company. If the subject is repeatedly brought up, please contact the Northwest Religious Liberty Association (NRLA).

Not Available for Work

If you try to receive unemployment benefits you must be “available for work,” therefore, the interviewer will ask about:

  • Lowest wages you are willing to accept.
  • Maximum distance you will travel to work.
  • Trades or occupations you consider acceptable.
  • Any restrictions on hours of work available—see caution below.

Caution: Be sure that the restrictions you give when you are interviewed do not unnecessarily limit the number of jobs available to you. The unemployment office will evaluate whether there are a significant number of job positions (whether open or filled) which fit the restrictions you have defined and will consider whether the additional restriction of being unavailable for work on the Sabbath serves to exclude you from the job market. In order to be eligible for benefits you must be able to demonstrate that accommodation of your personal and religious needs has not served to effectively exclude you from availability for employment.

The Unemployment Office does not handle many religion cases. The guidelines are somewhat complex. It is easy for them to make a mistake. If you are told that your benefits are denied and wish to appeal that decision, you should file your appeal immediately. You may then ask the Northwest Religious Liberty Association (NRLA) for advice or assistance in filling out the forms. The unemployment hearings are informal and you are not required to have a representative. However, in many states the evidence heard at the first hearing is the only evidence you are allowed to present. You are not allowed to present new evidence even if you file an appeal. A further hearing is carried out at the next higher level.

What Are My Rights Under the Law? – Title VII and EEOC Guidelines: The U.S. Civil Rights Act forbids employment discrimination on the basis of religion. Federal Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) guidelines for accommodation do not apply in most states if companies employ less than 15 employees. However, state laws in the northwest are tougher than federal laws. Alaska, Montana, and Oregon equal employment standards may be applied where there is one employee. In Idaho, the minimum number of employees is four. In Washington, the minimum is eight. Also, independent contractors that hire out jobs on a contractual basis are not held to, or protected by, EEOC rules.

Note: An employer, employment agency, or labor union has a duty to attempt to accommodate the religious beliefs of employees (and applicants) unless the employer, agency, or union can show that accommodation would result in an undue hardship on the business operation.

Call the Northwest Religious Liberty Association (NRLA)

For individualized counsel and assistance at 360-857-7040. We are open Monday through Thursday from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. and closed on Friday.