Religious Discrimination: The EEOC and Religion in the Workplace

Human resource professionals should know that there is no law against religion in the workplace.  In fact, the federal anti-discrimination law does not require that the workplace be sanitized of all religion.  This is why you see a Christmas tree at Christmas, or a menorah during Hanukkah in many places of business.  This is not considered to be pushing one’s religion on to another, and it allows for a bit of space for people to celebrate in ways that are familiar to them, as long as it is not being forced upon someone that does not believe the same.  So if this is the case, when does religion in the workplace go too far, and where does religious discrimination comes into play?

Recently, the EEOC sued an employer for requiring its employees to spend at least half of their work days in Scientology courses that focused on the sects religious practices.  Employees at the company were also required to attend courses at the Church of Scientology.  One of the employees was even made to undergo a “purification” treatment at the church.  In the question about how far is too far…this situation provides a very clear cut answer!

Like so many things in a workplace, there is always a line that must be walked when dealing with certain issues.  The fine lines, like sexual harassment and racial discrimination are easier to determine when they’ve been crossed.  With religious discrimination, as noted in the first paragraph above, there is nothing outlawing religion from being prevalent in the workplace.  In the case brought forth by the EEOC however, this clearly defined where that line can be crossed.  Sharing someones faith in a way that is about working to convert someone to a particular religion or belief is not prohibited in the workplace.  One can speak about religion, share thoughts, engage in debate, and it is acceptable.  When people are forced to participate in a particular religious activity or right as a provision of their employment, the line for religion in the work place is crossed and can open up an employer for litigation.

Religious discrimination comes into play in the work place in a few instances.  If an employer second guesses a person’s religious beliefs or interests, this can be grounds for a religious discrimination claim.  If certain religions are allowed to be practiced and recognized within a workplace but others are not, this can be recognized as a religious discrimination practice.  An employer reserves the right to remove religion in the form of symbols or other religious icons, but if the employer wants to do this, it must be even across the board.  Even if this is done, however, if an employee requires an accommodation for a religious practice or component of his faith, it’s best to allow for that time rather than open up the company to litigation from a religious discrimination law suit.