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Should employers allow employees to use the conference room for Bible study?

Honoring requests to use company facilities for employee bible study can be a balancing act. Foremost are concerns about whether an employer is required by law to provide the use of company facilities for bible study as a religious accommodation, coupled with weighing the risks of voluntarily doing so and possible exposure to concerns about religious favoritism, or discrimination.

Under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act, employers must reasonably accommodate employees' sincerely held religious, ethical or moral beliefs or practices unless doing so would impose an undue hardship on the employer. A reasonable religious accommodation is any adjustment to the work environment that will allow the employee to practice his or her religion. Breaks for prayer, flexible scheduling, voluntary substitutions or swaps, job reassignments, lateral transfers and modifications to workplace practices, policies or procedures are examples of how an employer might accommodate an employee's religious beliefs. Still, many employers question whether they must provide company facilities for employee bible study and where to go for more direction on this issue.

The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) provides the following guidance on religious discrimination in the workplace:

"Employers should not try to suppress all religious expression in the workplace. Title VII requires that employers accommodate an employee's sincerely held religious belief in 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 pray, 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." 

Employers will want to consider whether their policies and conference room space permit the use of company facilities for other types of non-business-related group meetings or activities. For some employers, especially those with limited space, the decision about providing space for on-site bible study may involve discussion around whether the company has or should have a policy that prohibits the use of company facilities for all non-business-related activities. For other employers, encouraging the use of company facilities for non-business-related activities, including bible study, may be an important facet of their employee relations and diversity initiatives.

Employers that allow use of company facilities for bible study should ensure that employees are free from religious discrimination or harassment. This means making sure that (1) any participation is voluntary, (2) those who chose not to participate do not experience explicit or subtle forms of coercion or hostility, and (3) participation or lack thereof is not used as a factor in any employment decisions such as work assignments, promotions or performance evaluations.

While balancing on that tightrope, the employer must ensure that it provides reasonable accommodations, that there is no religious harassment or discrimination, and that policies and practices on the use of company facilities for other non-business-related activities are followed consistently. 


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