Christian Rights in the Workplace

November 23, 2011

The Great Commission requires believers to spread the Gospel to the four corners of the Earth. Increasingly, people are realizing that this means that we are to be witnesses in our places of work. We at The American Center for Law and Justice are being inundated with calls from both employees and employers asking what the rules are for sharing one's faith at work. There will always be opposition to the spreading of the Gospel. Some in our society want religious people to keep their convictions to themselves and leave their religion at home. The law, however, does not require that religious employees and employers check their religion at the office door or the factory gate when they come to work. Federal and State laws protect the religious freedoms of employees and employers. Employers can run their business in conformance with godly principles and employees cannot be forced to act in a manner that conflicts with their religious beliefs. For instance, Christian employers may hold and participate in voluntary chapel services and prayer meetings for employees, and employees can share their faith with co-workers during breaks or free time so long as it is not disruptive. In short, there is no law requiring the workplace to be a religion-free zone. This booklet is designed to provide both employees and employers with answers to the question: What does the law have to say about religion at work? Do I have to work on Sunday if I think it is a sin? Can my company employ a full-time chaplain for employees? Do I have to pay union dues if the union supports homosexual rights? Can the stated purpose of my company be to glorify God? The answers to these questions and many others are contained in the pages that follow. These answers are based on general legal principles that may or may not apply to any given situation. Because each actual case is unique, the specific facts of each case have a direct impact on its outcome. So the answers here will give you general guidance, but you need to seek professional legal counsel to address the specifics of your situation. For the business world to act ethically and responsibly, it must have access to sound religious morality through its people in ownership as well as on the work floor. More people are being made aware of this truth and have decided that, despite pressure from society, they can no longer keep their faith a secret while at work. After all, if we have sincerely committed our lives to God, how can we leave Him out of the place where we earn our living and spend the better part of each day? It is hoped that this booklet will provide business owners and working people with a helpful overview of the law governing religion in the workplace. Your brother advocating Jesus, Jay Alan Sekulow ======================= Chapter One Employee Religious Rights Q: What is Title VII and how does it protect employees? A: The religious freedom of most employees is protected by a federal law called "Title VII".1 In order to be protected by Title VII, an employee must show that: (1) He holds a sincere religious belief that conflicts with an employment requirement (2) He has informed the employer about the conflict; and (3) He was discharged, disciplined or subjected to discriminatory treatment for failing to comply with the conflicting employment requirement.2 1. Sincerely held religious belief. The sincerity of religious belief is rarely at issue in Title VII cases. Although failure to act on a religious belief consistently may be considered evidence that the belief is not sincerely held,3 the fact that the belief was only recently acquired does not render it an insincere one.4 An employee is not held "to a standard of conduct which would have discounted his beliefs based on the slightest perceived flaw in the consistency of his religious practice."5 Religion under Title VII is broadly defined as including "all aspects of religious observance and practice, as well as belief."6 The EEOC defines religious practices as including "moral or ethical beliefs as to what is right and wrong which are sincerely held with the strength of traditional religious views. The fact that no religious group espouses such beliefs or the fact that the religious group to which the individual professes to belong may not accept such belief will not determine whether the belief is a religious belief of the employee."7 In other words, the EEOC's test does not require that the employee's religious beliefs coincide with the tenets of his church: "Title VII protects more than the observance of Sabbath or practices specifically mandated by an employee's religion."8 Religion under Title VII has been held to include the Black Muslim faith, the "old Catholic Religion," a "faith in humanity being," and atheism.9 However, "religion" has not been so broadly defined as to include membership in the Ku Klux Klan, membership in the United Klans of America, or belief in the spiritual power of a certain cat food.10 2. Employee informed employer of religious belief. Next the employee must show that the employer was aware of the belief. An employer has sufficient notice of an employee's religious belief if he has enough information about the employee's "religious needs to permit the employer to understand the existence of a conflict between employee's religious practices and the employer's job requirements."11 The best way to inform the employer is in writing. A simple letter to the employer stating: "I have a sincerely held religious belief to (or not to) ________. I am requesting that you, my employer, accommodate this sincerely held religious belief by allowing me to (or not requiring me to) ____________." The employee should sign and date the letter, and keep a copy. Notification in writing is not absolutely necessary, as long as the employer is aware of the beliefs.12 A written notification however, gives the employer a fair chance to attempt to accommodate your religious convictions by avoiding confusion or disputes over whether they actually had notice.13 This requirement must not be ignored. An employee's claim will be rejected if the employer does not understand the religious beliefs involved.14 3. Discriminatory treatment of employee. If an employee can show they have a sincerely held religious belief and that the employer knew about it, Title VII prohibits the employer from discriminating against the employee because of the belief. "Discrimination" includes demotion, layoff, transfer, failure to promote, discharge, harassment, or intimidation, or the threat of these adverse employment actions.15 The employer is also required to reasonably accommodate the employee's religious beliefs unless such accommodation would result in undue hardship to the employer.16 "Accommodation" means that employer neutrality is not enough.17 In general, an employer is required to accommodate an employee's adherence to the principles of his religion unless such accommodation will actually interfere with the operations of the employer. Chapter Two - Employees Of Private, Non-Government Organizations Table of Contents / Endnotes Most employees work for private employers, not for the government. These employees are primarily protected only by Title VII. They may also be protected by laws in their State similar to Title VII. State laws protecting the religious freedom of employees may provide more protection than Title VII, but generally they are very similar to the federal law. This booklet does not attempt to describe individual state laws therefore employees should consult an attorney who is licensed in their particular state to determine if state law provides them with added protection. This chapter explains how employees of private organizations are protected by Title VII. The rules of law stated apply to government employees, but focus on private employees because Title VII is usually their only remedy. Q Can I share the Gospel with co-workers at work? A If required by their religious beliefs, an employee's religiously motivated expressions of faith are protected by Title VII. For instance, in conversations with other employees, you may refer to Biblical passages on slothfulness and "work ethics."18 Employees can engage in religious speech at work as long as there is no actual imposition on co-workers or disruption of the work routine.19 Generally, no disruption of the work routine will occur if an employee's witnessing takes place during breaks, or other free time. If other employees are permitted to use electronic mail and screen savers for speech that is not related to work, an employee who has a sincerely held religious belief to communicate their faith with others should also be able to use these modes of communication. To ensure that their religious speech is protected by Title VII, an employee should first of all be able to honestly say that their religious beliefs require them to share the Gospel whenever possible with willing co-workers during breaks or other free time. The employee must then inform the employer of this religious belief (preferably in writing). At that point, the employer must attempt to accommodate this religious belief unless it will cause the employer "undue hardship." Q Can I keep my Bible or other religious items at my desk? A Yes. As with witnessing to co-workers, an employee can bring his Bible to work and keep it at his desk if he is required to do so by sincerely held religious beliefs. To ensure that this religious belief of having a Bible or other religious items at work is protected by Title VII, an employee should first of all be able to honestly say that their religious beliefs require them to bring these items to work. The employee must then inform the employer of this religious belief (preferably in writing). The employer is then required to attempt to accommodate this belief. Q Is my employer permitted to restrict what I say when I am not at work? A Employers generally cannot discriminate against...