22

Federally in the US, only race, sex, and religion are protected classes, i.e. it's illegal to make employment decisions (hiring/firing/salary/promotion/etc.) on the basis of a worker's race, sex, or religion.

Let's say that I have a Christian employee, Joe, who verbally harasses a gay employee, Steve. Joe is confronted by management or HR about his behavior, but he defends himself by saying that he is a devout Christian and he is only attempting to save Steve's soul. (For the record, while I personally am a Christian, I don't think the workplace is the right place for these conversations.)

What could the company do? Could they reprimand, or even fire, Joe for his harassment of Steve? Or would the company be required by federal law to keep Joe on staff even when he harasses other workers?

I can think of an example involving only religion as well. If I saw another employee wearing a Satanic symbol I would be very offended. But Satanists have religious freedom too and are also protected by federal law. So who wins?

  • 2
    From the eeoc website the federal protect classes are Applicants, employees and former employees are protected from employment discrimination based on race, color, religion, sex (including pregnancy, sexual orientation, or gender identity), national origin, age (40 or older), disability and genetic information (including family medical history). – George White Oct 14 at 4:22
  • 24
    I don't think "verbally abusive" falls under "saving one's soul". You can and should ignore religion here and look at this as general behaviour. – VLAZ Oct 14 at 11:21
  • Comments are not for extended discussion; this conversation has been moved to chat. – feetwet Oct 15 at 16:15
  • @VLAZ I agree, to an extent. It's a fine line, though. Personally, I would consider it verbally abusive to threaten an employee with eternal damnation or with going to Hell, but I know many Christians who would consider that normal speech and not verbal abuse. – Max A. Oct 17 at 1:32
  • 1
    Might be being challenged in court but still illegal today. According to the eeoc web site eeoc.gov/laws/types/pregnancy.cfm there is a specific act regarding . Pregnancy Discrimination & Work Situations "The Pregnancy Discrimination Act (PDA) forbids discrimination based on pregnancy when it comes to any aspect of employment, including hiring, firing, pay, job assignments, promotions, layoff, training, fringe benefits, . . . and any other term or condition of employment." the Wikipedia on PDA en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Pregnancy_Discrimination_Act – George White Oct 17 at 2:48
40

The EEOC web site has much information on this topic including summaries of close cases that have been decided in court.

To determine whether allowing or continuing to permit an employee to pray, proselytize, or engage in other forms of religiously oriented expression in the workplace would pose an undue hardship, employers should consider the potential disruption, if any, that will be posed by permitting this expression of religious belief.[196] As explained below, relevant considerations may include the effect such expression has had, or can reasonably be expected to have, if permitted to continue, on co-workers, customers, or business operations.

a. Effect on Workplace Rights of Co-Workers

Expression can create undue hardship if it disrupts the work of other employees or constitutes – or threatens to constitute – unlawful harassment. Since an employer has a duty under Title VII to protect employees from religious harassment, it would be an undue hardship to accommodate such expression. As explained in § III-A-2-b of this document, religious expression directed toward co-workers might constitute harassment in some situations, for example where it is facially abusive (i.e., demeans people of other religions), or where, even if not abusive, it persists even though the co-workers to whom it is directed have made clear that it is unwelcome. It is necessary to make a case-by-case determination regarding whether the effect on co-workers actually is an undue hardship. However, this does not require waiting until the alleged harassment has become severe or pervasive.[197] As with harassment on any basis, it is permitted and advisable for employers to take action to stop alleged harassment before it becomes severe or pervasive, because while isolated incidents of harassment generally do not violate federal law, a pattern of such incidents may be unlawful.[198]

  • 8
    +1. In short, you can not fire him for being christian. That doesn't mean that you can't fire him for what he says (specifically to other people). Would you tolerate the same behavior coming from a muslim trying to convert you ? Or an atheist harassing a christian ? – xyious Oct 14 at 20:22
  • 15
    ++; Harassment is harassment, "reasons" for doing so aren't ever relevant. – Delioth Oct 14 at 21:45
  • 8
    Actually, it looks like U.S. law treats harassment due to religion separately/more strongly than generic harassment. "Since an employer has a duty under Title VII to protect employees from religious harassment," – George White Oct 14 at 22:05
  • 2
    Also I'm pretty sure Steve has the right to believe that him being gay is not a sin and he should not be harassed because of that. Freedom of religion usually includes the freedom not to be religious. – PatJ Oct 15 at 12:35
  • 1
    So it sounds like the first example is something that the employer could and should put a stop to. However I don't see anything here which would justify taking action against the person wearing a satanic symbol, since they're not directing their expression at anyone. Although perhaps you could get away with banning all religious symbols if it's causing strife in the workplace. Is that an accurate interpretation? – Kat Oct 15 at 18:07

protected by feetwet Oct 15 at 16:14

Thank you for your interest in this question. Because it has attracted low-quality or spam answers that had to be removed, posting an answer now requires 10 reputation on this site (the association bonus does not count).

Would you like to answer one of these unanswered questions instead?

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