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How Much Do You Know About Religion in the Workplace? Take This Quiz To Find Out!

by Jim Guttmann, on July 26, 2016
Sometimes employers and employees are confused as to what’s appropriate or where the line might be in terms of telling others at work about their religious beliefs. This can be a gray area but let’s explore it with this little test.

Question #1:
Emails. Okay or Not Okay? An employee sends unsolicited and unauthorized e-mails to co-workers using the company computer, inviting co-workers to a lunchtime Christmas prayer service in the company’s conference room. Some of his co-workers thought this was a great idea, but others complained about the e-mail. His supervisor talked to him about the e-mail and told him that he should not send mass invitations such as this because someone might be offended. Plus, he should not use company computers for this purpose. During Easter season, the employee held another Christian-based event in the office; again sending unauthorized e-mail invitations. He also handed out religious pamphlets to those he suspected had complained about his Christmas prayer service. The Company had both e-mail privacy and anti-harassment policies which protect employees from such solicitation. Was the employee’s conduct okay?

Answer #1:
Not Okay The employee’s actions were a clear imposition on his fellow employees – by way of an invasion of their privacy. His activities were specifically directed at unwilling co-workers whom he hoped to convert to his religious beliefs after fully knowing that for some employees this conduct was unwelcomed. Therefore, he violated reasonable company policies and doing so was not okay.

Question #2:
Conversations. Okay or Not Okay? An owner of the Company approaches an employee and says, "Please come with me to church this Sunday.” The employee responds that she is a regular attendee at another church. The owner says, “Oh, you already worship somewhere else? Oh, there? Hmmm….." Should the owner have initiated this conversation? Was it okay?

Answer #2:
Okay for Now One low-key invitation might be alright, but any more than that may result in an allegation of religious discrimination or prejudice, especially if the owner has to later discipline, lay-off or fire the employee.

Question #3:
Discipline for Preaching. Okay or Not Okay? An employee starts preaching to his co-workers that they will go to Hell if they don’t repent and convert. Some co-workers of the employee go to the supervisor to complain. The supervisor considers the conduct a disciplinary issue and gives the employee a verbal warning. Is it okay for the supervisor to do that?

Answer #3:
Okay Courts do not like it when employees (even non-management employees) "preach" to their co-workers about their religious beliefs. Repeated offenses are generally considered legitimate grounds for termination of employment.

Question #4:
Banning Religion Altogether. Okay or Not Okay? Slightly adapting a line from a Taylor Swift song, Religion is a topic of which we must never speak, "ever, ever, ever, ever." Would banning any discussion about religion in the workplace be okay?

Answer #4:
Not Okay with Most Everyone Some employers are so worried about "separation of church and state," respecting all viewpoints, and avoiding offensive behavior that they discourage or prohibit any discussion or expression of religion in the workplace, including discussions that are consensual and expressions that are subtle and are not offensive. That’s just not necessary and seems to be a rather extreme position for an employer to take.

Question #5:
"Merry Christmas." Okay or Not Okay? An employer was wondering if it’s really okay for employees to go around saying “Merry Christmas” when that major holiday comes up in December. Is using the “C” word around that holiday really okay or must we say “Happy Holidays” so as to be politically correct?

Answer #5:
Okay Of course you can say “Merry Christmas” because it commemorates the birth of Jesus Christ. It’s okay! And those of the Jewish faith can also say “Happy Hanukkah” around that holiday, too!

Question #6:
Atheist and Agnostic Discrimination Complaints. Okay or Not Okay? Some atheist and agnostic employees complain to their employer that they have been subject to religious discrimination because of their beliefs. Really? Does the employer need to listen to that stuff? Could their complaints be legitimate? Is that okay?

Answer #6:
Okay Atheists and agnostics and "the unaffiliated" have rights, too. The religious discrimination laws also protect the rights of people to not believe in any faith or religion.

Overall Conclusion:
It is all about treating each other with dignity and respect, making sure that all employees feel comfortable when entering the workplace and respecting their religious beliefs. Employees may urge a co-worker to participate or not to participate in religious activities to the same extent that, consistent with concerns of workplace efficiency, they may urge their colleagues to engage in or refrain from other personal endeavors. But employees must refrain from such expression when a fellow employee asks that it stop or otherwise demonstrates that it is unwelcome.

A wide spectrum of Americans see a positive role for religion in the workplace at a time when morals and ethics are viewed as declining. Some companies try to limit religious expression on company time and property, but a growing number of businesses are fostering expressions of faith by providing time and space for like-minded employees to gather or by explicitly making faith an integral part of their business philosophy.

At the same time, a growing number of Christian ministries are urging members to live out their faith at work. In my view, the most compelling way to witness your faith is through the way you live your life. In this respect, Mother Theresa comes to mind for me and I’m sure that you can think of other wonderful role models too.

In the workplace, the bottom line is that the manner that we address religion as a topic in the workplace can sometimes be okay and at other times not okay. Consequently, we encourage you to stay attuned to your employees and gauge your actions by theirs.
Jim Guttmann

As a LandrumHR Senior Human Resources Manager, Jim is certified as a Senior Professional in Human Resources (SPHR) and has over 30 years of HR generalist experience. He holds a Masters in Business Administration from Florida State University and is an active member of the Raleigh-Wake Human Resources Management Association in North Carolina. Jim is also certified as a County Mediator in the State of Florida and in the administration of the Myers Briggs Type Indicator (MBTI). Jim is also very involved in his church community and is commissioned as Stephen Ministry Leader.

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