#religionintheworkplace

In its latest edition of the Digest of EEO Law, the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission included an article entitled, “Religious Accommodation in the Workplace: An Overview of the Law and Recent Commission Decisions.” Although the article summarizes federal sector decisions, it provides guidance to private employers on the EEOC’s overall position on religious accommodations – and (just in time for Halloween) the conclusions are a little scary!

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onion-1328465Here’s a seasonally appropriate horror story for employers.

As employers know (I hope), Title VII prohibits discrimination against employees on the basis of religion. That means that employees cannot be subjected to adverse employment actions based on their own religious beliefs, but also because they refuse to submit to an employer’s religious beliefs. But what is “religion” within the meaning of Title VII? The answer to that is incredibly confusing and very broad – encompassing all sorts of non-traditional belief and morality systems. The Supreme Court has said that determining what is a religious belief “is more often than not a difficult and delicate task.” The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, in its regulations, has provided an expansive definition of religion that includes:

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 or prospective employee.

The effect of this incredibly vague and broad definition means that employers may not always recognize when they’re dealing with a situation involving religion. A striking (perhaps even terrifying) example of this can be found in the recent federal court decision, EEOC v. United Health Programs of America, Inc.
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