Faith in the workplace: Where do you draw the line?

Posted On September 12, 2018

Where is the line between religious freedom and discrimination in the workplace?

The recent case of a baker who refused service to a gay couple on religious grounds brought the issue to the forefront nationally. But there are many other less sensational everyday instances where employers might be exposing themselves to potential litigation.

What if an employer likes to play religious music or display religious symbols in the office? Or asks about a potential employee’s feelings toward such displays during a job interview?

Our guest in this week’s episode of “What’s Working with Cam Marston” is Bill Wasden of the Mobile law firm Burr & Forman, an expert in employment law.

Today’s workforce is very “claims-conscious,” Wasden says, and employers are responsible for providing a workplace that’s free of religious discrimination and harassment. But what rises to the level of discrimination or harassment?

Could an employee who doesn’t like religious music or symbols sue an employer who insists on playing such music or displaying such symbols in the office? Or is it a business owner’s right, as a manifestation of his or her religious freedom, to do so?

Wasden says employers will often refrain from such displays if even one employee objects, to limit themselves from liability and potential litigation.

“These are real-world scenarios,” Wasden says. “We get this all the time. We advise our employer-clients to make reasonable accommodation to an individual employee’s religious beliefs or practices, and certainly not to discriminate against that employee in terms and conditions of employment.”

Would an employer who displays religious symbols in the workplace be wise to alert potential hires and gauge their attitudes toward them? Is there ever a reasonable circumstance to include religious or gender-based interview or application requirements? And what are the ramifications of that Supreme Court case involving the baker?

Join us for a discussion on these topics and other issues Wasden says he sees in local businesses every day.

Categories: church, Podcast, Workplace