Religious Discrimination. What constitutes a Religion?
According to the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC),
religious discrimination involves treating a person (an applicant
or employee) unfavorably because of his or her religious beliefs.
The law protects not only people who belong to traditional, organized
religions, such as Buddhism, Christianity, Hinduism, Islam, and
Judaism, but also others who have sincerely held religious, ethical
or moral beliefs.
Recent cases in Nebraska, New York and West Virginia indicate
how difficult the determination can be as to what is and what is
not a religion. In the first case, a Nebraska inmate sued prison
officials for failing to accommodate his religion. The inmate belonged
to the Church of the Flying Spaghetti Monster (FSMism). He claimed
entitlements to wear full pirate clothing while proselytizing to
a sea worthy vessel, to treat Fridays as holidays and to wear a “Colander
of Goodness (an actual colander) on his head. In this case the
court found that FSMism did not need to be treated as a genuine
religion because it failed to meet the criteria as established
by the court.
In the second case a New York court came to a different conclusion
when considering discrimination claims brought by the EEOC on behalf
of the employees of an employer that endorsed a program known as “Onionhead” or “Harnessing
Happiness”. The CEO instituted the program as a conflict
resolution tool. Employees objected to forced participation because
the materials included references to God, demons, Satan, purity
and miracles. Employees were also required to burn candles and
incense in order to cleanse the workplace as well as to chant or
pray in their workplace. In this case, the court found that Onionhead
was a religion and allowed the lawsuit to proceed.
Lastly, a jury in West Virginia addressed still another religious
accommodation claim. In this case an employee requested a religious
accommodation to a new policy which required all employees to clock
in and out each day via a biometric hand scanner. The employee
believed that the hand scanner was part of an identification system
and collection of personal information that would be used by the
Antichrist, as described in the New Testament Book of Revelation,
to identify his followers with the mark of the beast. At trial,
the jury concluded that the employer failed to reasonably accommodate
the employee’s sincerely held religious belief that the scanner
was immoral. The jury then awarded the employee nearly $600,000
as a judgment against the employer.
These are all true cases. If any employee requests a religious
accommodation, all employers should consider the potential problems
of not seriously considering all available options.
A company’s best defense against the potential expense and
aggravation related to federal or state law violations is to proactively
review and revise as needed their Human Resources policies, handbooks,
hiring procedures, compensation, benefits, training programs, communications
tools and other functions. The professionals of PHHR are ready
to assist your organization maintain compliance with the latest
state and federal mandates.
Paul Hilton Human Resources Consulting works with our clients to insure that all required documentation is correct and sufficient to successfully defend against a claim to any unemployment compensation commission.
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