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

Posted On September 14, 2018

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?

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?

“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?

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