As the 21st century workplace struggles to incorporate all aspects of life, including religion, it’s important to know what your rights to religious expression really are, whether employee or employer. Here’s a pop quiz from the new book, “The Congruent Life: Following the Inward Path to Fulfilling Work and Inspired Leadership.”
1. You choose to wear on your lapel a Star of David that was given to you by your grandfather, a concentration camp survivor. A Christian and an Islamic coworker both complain that they are uncomfortable with this overt religious expression. Are they within their rights?
Answer: No. Personal expressions or symbols of religious belief, in and of themselves, do not violate the rights of others who have a different faith.
2. Could your corporate employer prohibit you from wearing the lapel pin?
Answer: Yes, but only if all other religious expressions were similarly banned from the workplace.
3. You and several coworkers wish to organize a group that will meet for prayer and meditation each morning before the start of the workday. The meetings will be on company property, and your employer has supported the meetings to the extent of providing the facilities, donating refreshments, and allowing you to advertise the existence of the group in the company’s monthly newsletter. Is the employer in danger of violating the law?
Answer: No, unless the employer is a government agency, in which case it’s a bit stickier. First Amendment prohibitions do not apply, and the company has done nothing to create a “hostile work environment” for other employees.
4. The employer decides that the pre-work prayer meetings are such a good idea that all employees will be required to attend. Permissible?
Answer: No chance. Without a totally homogeneous workforce, the employer runs the risk of creating an offensive work environment for those of differing beliefs.