Sunday, December 28, 2003

I found this yesterday on a blog called Psycho Sensei:

From Knox News .com

Religion can be trouble in workplace

By PAMELA REEVES, Anderson, Reeves & Cooper P.A.
December 21, 2003

A case filed in federal court in Nashville two weeks ago illustrates why employers need to make sure their employees' religious beliefs remain outside the workplace.

The case was filed by a woman who adheres to the Baha'i faith, a sect that believes several religious figures are equally authentic messengers of God.

The lawsuit alleges that when she was fired, she was told that she was being fired before the Christmas season because her mere presence in the workplace would ruin her co-worker's holidays.

The plaintiff also alleged that other co-workers told her that they were praying for her soul and that the office manager gave her a framed picture of Jesus. She claims that her termination notice contained a letter from her supervisor that said, "Realize why Jesus Came. Recognize his Holy Name. Receive Jesus Christ into your heart. Rely on Jesus everyday."

While it is too early to predict the outcome of this lawsuit, it is safe to say that the actions of the co-workers have, at a minimum, created a potential for liability.

Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 prohibits discrimination in the terms and conditions of employment based on religion in companies with 15 or more employees. The Tennessee Human Rights Act prohibits religious discrimination for employers with eight or more employees.

It is difficult for employees to realize that their desire to share their religious beliefs with co-workers can be a form of religious discrimination. Many have strong religious convictions that they should share their faith with others. Unfortunately, this type of behavior in the workplace can create concerns.

Companies should make sure that their supervisors are aware that attempts to impose religious beliefs can be a violation of law. In particular, supervisors should be trained to avoid this type of behavior personally and to take affirmative action to make sure that co-workers are not harassing other employees.

This is not to say that one can never discuss religion in the workplace. It is fine to invite someone to attend church or to answer questions about religious beliefs. The problems occur when an employee begins to harass a co-worker about religious beliefs or makes religion such a focus that it begins to affect the terms and conditions of employment.

While the Christmas season is definitely a time for many of us to take stock of our religious beliefs, it is also a time to remember that those beliefs are personal. The workplace is simply not a pulpit.

It may be difficult in this part of the country to accept this fact, but the New Year will be a lot happier if the company and its employees are not having to spend their time defending a religious discrimination lawsuit.

Pamela Reeves is a partner in the Knoxville law firm Anderson, Reeves & Cooper P.A. Because factual situations vary, competent legal counsel should be consulted for individual advice.

As someone from the blog commented -- this kind of thing no doubt happens all the time, but it's rare for somebody to do anything about it. It actually is fairly common for a Baha'i to get some negative feedback, sometimes even from families. I think it's even worse because most of us have chosen our religion -- people would be a bit more polite if it was something we were raised in.

Actually, I had an employer who used to razz me about being a Baha'i, but it was because he himself was an athiest -- he didn't like anybody's religion. And I think he just liked getting under my skin. He was sort of a curmudgeonly old guy, and even though I generally didn't argue with him, I've never been one who could keep my feelings off my face.

What I find irritating about fundie Christians is that they talk to you like you've never heard of Jesus, or read the Bible, or thought about the issues involved at all. Most Baha'is come from some kind of Christian background, and thought deeply before declaring -- more deeply, I daresay than many that answer the emotional appeal of the "altar call".

However, for people to do this at work is just totally out of line. In fact, I can't believe the employer didn't think about the fact that there was real potential for a lawsuit here. But then, I think a lot of small employers think they can just get away with it; big companies will generally have policies about discriminations -- with small ones, it just might be one guy making a decision based on whatever biases he happens to have.

I once was turned down for a job because, at the time, I was young and hadn't had my kids yet. I don't think he even looked at my resume. This guy was tired of women taking off because of pregnancy, and was openly looking for someone who had already had children and was unlikely to have more. This, of course, is illegal as hell, and I griped about it to the agent who had sent me. Of course, like most people, I didn't do anything about it. I often wondered, though, if the person he hired lasted longer than it took me to have kids.

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