Respecting Others’ Religious Beliefs in the Workplace

For the uninitiated, yesterday was Star Wars Day (May the Fourth be with you), so I, like so many other Star Wars fans, spent part of my day watching Star Wars, specifically Episode IV: "A New Hope."  I even managed to convert my 2 year-old daughter into a brand-new Star Wars fan.  

During this particular episode, one of the Imperial officers, Admiral Motti, mocks Darth Vader’s belief in the force.  In fact, he goes as far to call Vader’s beliefs “sorcerer’s ways,” and a “sad devotion to that ancient religion.”  Of course, Vader achieves the upper hand (see what I did there?), as he usually does: by using the Force to choke Admiral Motti.

Mocking another’s sincere religious beliefs, regardless of your feelings about the religion, is never a good idea.  Similarly, you should not allow other employees to make derogatory statements about another’s religion.  An employee only needs to have a sincerely held religious belief for Title VII to control, as Title VII’s definition of “religion” is very broad.  Per the EEOC’s website:

"Title VII, religion includes not only traditional, organized religions such as Christianity, Judaism, Islam, Hinduism, and Buddhism, but also religious beliefs that are new, uncommon, not part of a formal church or sect, only subscribed to by a small number of people, or that seem illogical or unreasonable to others. An employee’s belief or practice can be “religious” under Title VII even if the employee is affiliated with a religious group that does not espouse or recognize that individual’s belief or practice, or if few – or no – other people adhere to it."

Continuous mocking and derogatory comments about religion (or any other aspect of a protected class) could lead to a hostile work environment claim, which may be successful if the comments are sufficiently severe and pervasive.  Even if your employee doesn’t decide to take action during their employment, they may change their mind if you need to take adverse action at some later date.  Even if you’re legitimately demoting or terminating the employee, they may claim that the action was motivated by religious considerations, and may be able to put together a fairly good case depending on what was said about the employee’s religion.

Movie takeaway: Never speak negatively about an employee’s sincerely held religious beliefs and don’t allow other employees to do so either.

"HR Cinema" is an ongoing feature at The Employer’s Lawyer.  It combines Casey’s love of movies with his passion for human resources and employment law.  To visit The Employer’s Lawyer, please click here

 

THIS BLOG SHOULD NOT BE CONSTRUED AS LEGAL ADVICE, AS PERTAINING TO SPECIFIC FACTUAL SITUATIONS OR ESTABLISHING AN ATTORNEY-CLIENT RELATIONSHIP.

 

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