Minnesota's workforce is becoming increasingly diverse, and that's a great thing. However, some employers haven't quite caught up to the changing times.
Minnesota law forbids religious discrimination, and requires employers to make reasonable accommodations for their employees' religious practices. If you are a Muslim, you may wonder how this law applies to you.
What is religious discrimination?
Religious discrimination occurs whenever an employer takes adverse action against an employee or job applicant on the basis of his or her religion. This can include things like firing, refusing to hire, refusing to promote, denying training opportunities or assigning less favorable job duties.
Discrimination also occurs when an employee is being harassed and the employer knows, but does not stop it. This could occur, for example, if your coworkers are consistently making offensive jokes or snide comments about your religion.
Can employers discriminate based on customer preference?
After there is a terrorist attack or similar story in the news, you sometimes hear about employers moving their Muslim employees out of customer-facing duties because they think it will make the customers "more comfortable." This is not acceptable. Your employer cannot fire you or change your duties simply because they think their customers won't like working with a Muslim person.
What are reasonable accommodations?
Minnesota law requires employers to make reasonable accommodations for employees of all religions. Basically, a reasonable accommodation is something that allows employees to practice their sincerely held religious beliefs without putting an "undue burden" on the employer.
Can I wear my headscarf at work?
Yes. In most cases, the reasonable accommodation rule requires employers to allow employees to wear a hijab or similar religious attire. Your employer can ask you to make sure your hijab fits in with the company uniform, for example by choosing a coordinating color or pattern.
An exception may occur if wearing a hijab could pose a safety risk. For example, if the loose fabric could get caught in dangerous machinery, it is possible your employer could ask you to remove your hijab, wear a different kind of head covering or take on new duties that are less risky.
Can I take breaks to pray at work?
Yes. Employers are required to make reasonable accommodations for prayer, so long it doesn't unduly interfere with the running of the business. However, your employer can still ask you to put in the same amount of working hours as everyone else: this means that you might have to agree to take a shorter lunch break or work a slightly longer shift to accommodate your prayer breaks.
What do I do if I'm being treated unfairly?
If you think you are being discriminated against at work, your best option is to discuss the issue with an experienced employment law attorney. The attorney will help you determine whether the conduct is potentially illegal, and if so, what steps you should take next.