Last month, Illinois amended its Human Rights Act (IHRA) (775 ILCS 5/) to clarify the protection of employees’ sincerely held religious beliefs in the workplace. Individuals were already protected from discrimination based on religion but the amended statute, known as the “Religious Garb Law” (SB 1697), makes certain protections more explicit.
The new law prohibits an employer from imposing any employment conditions that would cause an employee or prospective employee to “violate or forgo a sincerely held practice of his or her religion including, but not limited to, the wearing of any attire, clothing, or facial hair in accordance with the requirements of his or her religion.” The law requires an employer to reasonably accommodate the individual’s “sincerely held religious beliefs,” unless doing so would cause undue hardship to the business.
Examples of Protected Practices
The wearing of “religious garb” is one example of protected religious expression, but the law is not limited to appearance. A sincerely held religious belief could affect an employee’s ability to work on certain days or at certain times, to work with certain foods or products, to engage in prayer, attend worship services, or observe religious holidays. Religious practices might require displaying religious objects or markings, forbid wearing certain garments or prohibit participation in certain activities at the workplace.
When considering the sincerity or religious nature of an employee’s beliefs, employers should be aware that the term “religion” is broadly interpreted. It includes all aspects of religious observance, practice, and belief. (775 ILCS 5/2-101(F)). It is not limited to traditional, organized religions. (See Frazee v. Illinois Department of Employment Security, et al. 489 U.S. 829 (1989).) It includes religious beliefs that are new, uncommon, or only held by a small number of people. Practices that are religious for some individuals may not be religious for others.
Religious Accommodation and Undue Hardship
Illinois law requires employers to consider reasonable adjustments to workplace procedures to accommodate the expression of an employee’s religious beliefs. Common accommodations include flexible scheduling, shift swapping, job reassignment, permitting the facility to be used for religious activities, and exceptions to dress or grooming rules. However, employers are not required to refrain from enforcing all policies that might intrude on an individual’s religious beliefs or agree to all accommodation requests. For example, the Religious Garb Law expressly permits an employer to have a dress code or grooming policy that restricts attire, clothing, or facial hair in order to maintain workplace safety or food sanitation.
Requirement to Post a Notice of Employee Rights in the Workplace
The IHRA (775 ILCS 5/) requires employers to post a summary of the Act’s protections that provides information about filing a charge and describes the right to be free from unlawful discrimination and the right to certain reasonable accommodations. The Illinois Department of Human Rights (IDHR) has created an “Employment Rights” posting which it recently approved to be in compliance with the notice requirements of the IHRA. The posting describes:
- the types of employment actions that are protected from discrimination, such as hiring, promotion, pay or discharge
- characteristics and categories protected by law, such as race, color, religion, sex and pregnancy
- instructions for filing a complaint
- contact information for the IDHR
All Illinois employers are required to update their workplace labor law notices to include the new “Employee Rights” posting. Compliance Poster Company’s Illinois All-On-One Labor Law Poster™ and Illinois Mobile Poster Pak™ have been updated to include the new posting. Order today!