Religious Accommodation: Do we have to allow employees to proselytize or use religious expressions/greetings?

Mar 17, 2015

According to the EEOC, an employer should try not to suppress all religious expression in the workplace. Title VII requires that employers accommodate an employee’s sincerely held religious beliefs, including engaging in religious expression in the workplace, to the extent that they can do so without undue hardship on the operation of the business. In determining whether permitting an employee to proselytize or engage in other forms of religiously oriented expression in the workplace would pose an undue hardship, relevant considerations may include the effect such expression has on co-workers, customers or business operations.

Religious expression directed toward co-workers might constitute harassment in some situations—for example, when it is facially abusive (e.g., demeans people of other religions), or when, even if not abusive, it persists even though the co-workers to whom it is directed have made clear that such religious expression is unwelcome. You must determine on a case-by-case basis if the effect on co-workers actually is an undue hardship. However, this does not require waiting until the behavior is severe or pervasive.

Moreover, if an employee was proselytizing an employer’s customers or clients in a manner that disrupted business or that could be mistaken as the employer’s own message, the employer does not have to allow it. Where the religiously oriented expression is limited to use of a phrase or greeting, it is more difficult for the employer to demonstrate undue hardship. On the other hand, if the expression is in the manner of individualized, specific proselytizing, an employer is far more likely to be able to demonstrate that it would constitute an undue hardship to accommodate an employee’s religious expression, regardless of the length or nature of the business interaction.

For example, one court found that the use of the general religious greeting “Have a Blessed Day” by a cashier when accepting payment did not impose an undue hardship for a private sector employer, when the phrase was said in the context of brief anonymous interactions and had little demonstrable adverse impact on customers or the business. However, other courts have found undue hardship where religiously oriented expression was used in the context of a regular business interaction with a client. Regardless of whether the client objects, a religiously oriented expression may be an undue hardship for an employer when the expression could be mistaken as the employer’s message.

In summary, to determine if allowing an employee to proselytize or engage in other forms of religiously oriented expression in the workplace would pose an undue hardship, employers may consider the potential disruption, if any, posed by permitting this expression of religious belief. As noted above, relevant considerations may include the effect such expression has had, or can reasonably be expected to have, on co-workers, customers, and business operations.

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This material is for informational purposes only and not for the purpose of providing legal advice. You should always contact your attorney to determine if this information, and your interpretation of it, is appropriate to your particular situation.


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