One of the founding principles of America is religious freedom. Two related but distinct aspects of our First Amendment – the Establishment Clause and the Free Exercise Clause – guarantee these freedoms from different perspectives: the freedom to not have our government endorse or mandate a specific religion (Establishment Clause) and the freedom to exercise our own religion as we see fit (Free Exercise Clause). While a workplace is not quite the same as the workings of our federal and state governments, they do offer a helpful guide to your religious freedoms in the workplace: 1) the idea that your employer cannot compel you to participate in specific religious practices; and 2) your own freedom to practice your religion on the job.
To be clear, employers are not allowed to discriminate on the basis of religion in the hiring or employment process (except in limited situations where religion is key to the position, such as hiring a minister within a religious denomination), and if you have experienced such discrimination, you should contact an employment attorney immediately. That said, here is a brief overview of religious practices while on the job itself.
You Cannot Be Forced to Attend Religious Meetings in the Workplace
Some employers take pride in infusing religious principles and devotions into their business, and that is absolutely their right to do so. Sometimes this means sponsoring or allowing religious meetings to occur at the workplace, such as prayer meetings, devotionals, worship meetings, or bringing in religious speakers. While employers are generally free to do so, they may not force employers to attend these meetings, meaning you cannot be subject to any adverse employment decision (i.e. lower pay, not getting a promotion, etc.) for failure to attend.
An employer should also refrain from requiring employees to take any action that violates their sincerely held religious beliefs (the law does not look into whether your religion is “true” or even widely adopted, only whether you sincerely hold the beliefs, meaning you can't just make up a religion to get yourself out of doing tasks you don't want to do). For example, an employer should not force a Muslim or Mormon who does not drink for religious beliefs to drink alcohol. Things can get trickier in situations where the task is fundamental to the job, such as working on a Sunday.
You Are Allowed to Practice Your Religious Beliefs, But There Are Limits
Looking now at what employees can do to exercise their religion on the job, an employer may restrict a person's religious exercises and expression on the job, but generally only when that restriction is applied neutrally to everyone and is not specifically directed at religious practices. For example, an employer could say that no employees are allowed to have non-work items on their desk, but it could not say that only bibles or other religious materials are not permitted on a desk.
An employee is also allowed to share and/or express their religious beliefs at work, but within reason. Religious speech is protected in the same way that other forms of speech are protected, but, as with all types of speech, you cannot use religion as a cover to make speech that is otherwise threatening, harassing, or demeaning to others. This is true whether you are a Christian, Muslim, atheist, or anything in between.
Religious practices in the workplace can be a deeply complex topic, and while common sense can resolve most questions, others will require the input of an experienced employment law attorney.
Contact a Pasadena Workplace Discrimination Attorney Today
The Law Offices of Brian I. Vogel represents California workers in helping them win justice and financial recovery through employment discrimination, wrongful termination, and other labor law matters. With three decades of experience in bringing hundreds of actions on behalf of California workers, Brian Vogel has the skills, tenacity, and deep knowledge of California and federal employment law to fight for justice on your behalf. Contact him today to schedule a consultation regarding your potential religious discrimination claim.
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