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Woman Praying at WorkA woman in Casper, Wyoming recently filed a lawsuit in federal court against her previous employer, an occupational and physical therapy office, for making her attend Scientology classes as a condition of her employment. She claims that the employer violated the Civil Rights Act of 1964, which prohibits religious harassment in a work environment. According to her account, the woman was forced to resign in 2013 after she refused to attend the Scientology courses. 

Religion and the workplace are often at odds. On the flip side of the above issue, employees have been asking for religious exemptions from employers for decades. And generally, those sincerely held beliefs are protected by law. In September, the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) sued Walmart for religious discrimination against a Seventh Day Adventist who wanted Friday evening through Saturday evening off to observe his religion. Walmart refused to accommodate his schedule, even though the EEOC believes that the company is big enough to manage this type of request. Walmart countered this claim, suggesting that working weekends is a prerequisite for the employee’s position (Assistant Manager). Although the case will most likely be resolved before it heads to trial, the law is, most likely, on the employee’s side.

If you’re a regular reader of the popular workplace blog  “Ask a Manager”, you know that columnist Alison Green regularly fields questions about religion in the workplace. Sometimes, it’s employees who don’t want to answer questions about their religion at work. Other times, employers are pushing religion on employees. Sometimes, it’s co-workers who give unsolicited religious opinions. In one memorable letter, a company began a wellness initiative by pushing employees to attend religious services.

In her response, Green makes the point that private employers are different than government employers. It’s not necessarily illegal to promote religion in the private sector. Of course, you can’t discriminate or harass, but you certainly aren’t prohibited from talking about religion or decorating with religious symbols. Government employees are bound by the U.S. Constitution, so that makes it a different case. Certainly, employers would be wise to speak to an attorney about specific requirements for religion to make sure they aren’t violating local or state laws.

However, Green goes on to point out, “just being legal doesn’t mean something is a good idea, and this one isn’t. Most employees have no interest in — and are often offended by — having their employer tell them what lifestyle to live. You don’t need your company’s guidance on… how you do or don’t practice your faith (or lack thereof).”

Obviously, basing hiring or firing decisions on religion is inherently wrong, as the EEOC is serious about religious discrimination. In June 2018, a logging company paid $53,000 to settle an EEOC lawsuit for refusing to accommodate a Jewish truck driver who requested Saturday off to practice his faith. Another lawsuit that was recently settled involved a Pentecostal woman who asked for an accommodation to wear a blue jean skirt instead of blue jeans due to her religious beliefs. The company denied her accommodation. The EEOC sued. The company settled for $25,000.

EEOC Birmingham Regional Attorney Marsha L. Rucker said, “This case is a reminder that employers risk violating the law if they require an employee to choose between her job and her religion.”

How Can Employers Respect Employees While Still Being Faithful?

Many people start a business out of their religious beliefs that God called them to serve the community, so it’s not surprising that faith is a big part of many businesspeople’s lives. And many faithful businessmen and women want to share their faith and bring others into their religious community.

And they are free to do so outside of work. At work, that can lead to a problem. Employees may feel obligated to listen to their employer’s proselytizing. And when a manager is evangelizing at work, there is an implicit threat to agree, intended or not, due to that person’s position of power.

It’s hard to separate faith from work, especially when your faith is an important part of your life. You can display your faith at work, and honor it. But you do not have a right to push your religion on unreceptive coworkers. Even something you may view as innocuous like telling a colleague you’ll pray for them may offend. So unless your religious opinion is specifically solicited, it’s best to keep it to yourself.

You might say that people are too sensitive- but faith in the workplace is a situation that deserves sensitivity.

Category: Faith


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