From time to time we come across businesses described by their owners as being managed and operated on Christian principles. Owners explain that they use their personal faith to guide their business decisions, including decisions that impact their employees. While there are no legal restrictions on the use of such business philosophies, in some situations the personal religious beliefs of owners can lead to conflict due to the differing views of employees.
Last month, the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission announced that it had sued a Texas medical practice on behalf of a Buddhist employee who claims she and other employees suffered retaliation and were eventually fired because they asked to be exempted from attending pre-work Bible studies. . The EEOC alleges that the employer held mandatory staff meetings that included Bible verse readings and discussions about the impact of those verses on the lives and work of employees.
Employers are not required to remove religion from the workplace, and attempts to do so may result in requests for religious accommodation from employees. There is no legal prohibition on employers allowing employees, including managers, to conduct a Bible study in their workplaces during breaks or outside of working hours. However, the EEOC lawsuit is based on claims that in this case, religious study was mandatory and that employees who refused to participate faced negative employment consequences.
Even businesses run according to owners’ religious principles cannot require adherence to religious beliefs or practices as conditions of employment. In its next term, the United States Supreme Court is expected to hear arguments in a case brought by a bakery that refused to provide a cake for a gay couple’s wedding. The appellants in this case argue that state laws prohibiting discrimination in the provision of services to businesses violate their First Amendment free speech rights. Even if the appellants in this case prevail, a Supreme Court ruling is unlikely to extend that logic to override federal or state employment discrimination laws.