The owner of a local fast-food restaurant has enacted a new policy that requires employees to say "Be Blessed" to all customers as they leave. If an employee refuses to say it, disciplinary action is taken up to and including termination.

Does an employee terminated for refusal to follow this policy have grounds for any legal action such as religious discrimination?

  • 3
    It has never happened to me, but should I ever be told "be blessed" in a fast food restaurant, I'll ask to talk to the manager. Being told "be blessed" by an employee who is threatened with disciplinary action including termination would be totally disgusting. 100 times worse than saying nothing at all. – gnasher729 Nov 11 '16 at 11:04
  • 1
    @gnasher729 - you're a tough patron! It would sound odd in my part of the country, but etymologically it's synonymous with "goodbye" and "have a good day," which are in common usage throughout the U.S. – feetwet Nov 13 '16 at 0:37
  • 3
    It's not. "Be blessed" is what I would expect a priest to say in church, not a shop assistant. It's religious. If you say it to me because you mean it, fine. If you say it to me to avoid being fired, then I'm disgusted with the person who forced you to say it. – gnasher729 Nov 13 '16 at 7:25
  • 2
    @gnasher729 - "Goodbye" is a contraction of "God be with you." – feetwet Nov 15 '16 at 15:20
  • 4
    So whatever fundamentalist is running this restaurant should be satisfied with a simple goodbye then. – Eric Nolan Mar 12 '19 at 12:02

It probably depends on whether the employer is covered by a relevant non-discrimination statute. Most employers in the United States are covered, but some are small enough to be exempt. Federal law exempts employers with under 15 employees and religious organizations. There might also be a relevant state law.

It also would depend upon whether the EEOC or a court found that "be blessed" was a compelled religious statement in violation of a worker's beliefs, and whether allowing the worker not to say it would be a "reasonable accommodation." This is a strong case, and I suspect that the worker would win on both counts but it isn't a completely open and shut case. There is arguably a secular meaning to the word "blessed" and a court could conceivably find that there is a legitimate and indispensible business purpose for insisting that every single person in the worker's position need to make this statement, although I doubt that a court would do so.

  • "arguably a secular meaning": If the ownership is very religious, as they seem to be, they might not want to make that argument. – phoog Nov 11 '16 at 22:52
  • 2
    @phoog This is why people hire lawyers, to protect them from their own bad instincts. – ohwilleke Nov 12 '16 at 6:13
  • 1
    I'm not sure which bad instinct you're talking about. If the ownership is very religious, they would likely have to perjure themselves to make that argument. – phoog Nov 12 '16 at 14:27
  • @phoog Not necessarily. The fact which would be subject to perjury is whether employees are required to say "be blessed" or not. The question of whether something has a secular or religious meaning is as much an objective inference from that fact as it is legally a question of subjective intent. – ohwilleke Nov 12 '16 at 16:30
  • 1
    There are both secular and religious senses of the word in a standard dictionary definition: merriam-webster.com/dictionary/blessed – ohwilleke Nov 12 '16 at 17:18

Although the asking person didn't mention this, the statement "blessed be" is a well-established greeting under Wicca, specifically, and is distinct from other belief systems. Wicca is generally recognized as a religion under U.S. law. As such, this is a case of an employer compelling religious speech. Since members of many religions would be discouraged from practicing a different religion than their own the employer has to accommodate the objecting employee. The topic of business compelled speech is very deep, and so is the topic of religious discrimination, but in a general sense can be answered. The rest of this answer goes into more detail about why. The requirement that the employer accommodate is very broad, and is one of the only areas of labor law where the employee is favored rather than the employer. The laws in the United States broadly presume that if the employer has a problem with the exception the employer, not the employee, is doing something inappropriate.

Religious accommodation cares about what is called a good-faith practice. Basically, the employer is supposed to presume the employee requesting an exception is acting out of a legitimate need, and questions like how observant the employee really is or if the exemption is really needed by their religion are none of the employer's business. The only thing that matters is that the employee thinks they need an exemption, and an employer who isn't trying to exclude members of other religions won't care about those things. The employer is required to sit down and talk to the employee in a good-faith effort to help the employee continue to do their job. The employee should be willing to discuss the restriction they're trying to work around. Both sides should be trying to make things work.

Another important concept is what is actually required for the job. At that point the nature of the business becomes important. Although employers like to think of superficial matters like dress codes and manner of speech as being of import, the courts have not generally viewed them as essential to most jobs. For example, if you required someone to say, "god bless you" every time they answered the telephone, that might look consistent or project a certain set of values, but that would not actually be necessary unless the job was some kind of hotline customers called to receive blessings. If you're working for an oddities shop that primarily serves the community of Wicca worshipers by selling them religious supplies that is an important detail. In most other settings the employer is way out of line.

As described in the question right now, in the question posed above, the employee has grounds to sue, and in my personal opinion the employee should actually do so. These sorts of expectations are extremely inappropriate coming from any employer, and the employer has every reason to know that. No sensible person living in the United States would expect employees of any religion to act as members of a different religion, and these sorts of lawsuits are a necessary tool in preventing discrimination.

  • 1
    But the employee is not compelled to say "blessed be," but rather "be blessed." The argument that either is necessarily related to Wicca is unlikely to withstand examples of the phrase "blessed be" in Christian, Hindu, Jewish, Buddhist, and Muslim texts, among those of other religions. – phoog Nov 4 '19 at 23:14
  • 1
    Religious discrimination laws also protect those who have no religion; either version of the expression is clearly religious in nature. – user6726 Nov 4 '19 at 23:28
  • @user6726 I don't dispute that the expression is religious in nature, but the argument that it is particularly associated with any one religion is not going to get anywhere. – phoog Nov 5 '19 at 1:39

Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service, privacy policy and cookie policy

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.