If you’re like many people, your religion is a very important aspect of your life – but can you be fired for talking about religion at work? This guide explains this often-touchy subject.
Can You Be Fired for Talking About Religion at Work?
First things first: Employers are required to provide reasonable accommodations for religious reasons. That means as long as something won’t cause the business undue hardship, infringe upon other employees’ rights, or cause harm in some other way, an employer is supposed to allow people to practice their own religions as they see fit.
But what about when it comes to proselytizing – the act of attempting to convert another person from one religion, belief or opinion to another? Can an employer fire you for talking about religion at work?
In some cases, yes.
You generally have the right to talk about your religion – it’s typically okay to say that you belong to a particular faith or that you observe certain holidays or holy days. In fact, it may be necessary for you to have a discussion about your holidays or holy days with your supervisor – particularly if you’re asking for a reasonable accommodation, such as time off for religious observances.
However, when you talking about religion becomes an infringement on another worker’s rights, your employer does not have to allow it – even if your religion requires you to proselytize. For example, if your attempts to convert a co-worker, supervisor, customers or anyone else result in a complaint to your employer because you’re making the person feel uncomfortable, attacked or harassed, your employer likely has the legal obligation to step in and prevent it from happening.
When Talking About Religion Becomes Harassment
Here’s an example. Sarah is a non-religious person, and Abby is very religious. Abby’s religion guides her (and maybe even requires her) to convert as many people to her religion as she possibly can. Abby consistently leaves religious pamphlets on Sarah’s desk, attempts to get her to attend church, and approaches her during break times and work times to warn Sarah of the dire consequences of not converting to Abby’s religion, such as eternal damnation.
Sarah feels very uncomfortable with these conversations and wants Abby to leave her alone. She asks Abby to stop discussing religion with her, but Abby doesn’t listen. Sarah then files a complaint with her employer.
If Abby’s conduct reaches the point where it’s preventing Sarah from doing her work, or if Abby’s conduct is so severe and pervasive that it’s creating a hostile work environment for Sarah (or anyone else), the employer has a duty to step in. At this point, Abby’s conduct may have crossed into harassment territory.
Harassment is offensive, unwelcome conduct that revolves around a person’s membership in a protected group. In this case, that group is religion. Whether Sarah is an atheist, part of the Jewish faith, a Muslim or anything else, Abby’s continual attempts at converting Sarah may constitute religious harassment.
Sarah has the right to work without being harassment, even if that means that Abby can’t fulfill one of her religious duties – that is, converting others – in the workplace.
Alternate Approaches to Being Fired for Talking About Religion in the Workplace
Your company may take one of several approaches if you’re the one being accused of religious harassment. It may choose to terminate your employment, citing harassment of other workers, or it may provide you with some alternatives. For example, it may allow you to discuss your religion at social workplace functions, but not during the workday (particularly if other workers say you’re disrupting their ability to do their jobs). It may encourage you to wear religious apparel (such as T-shirts emblazoned with your church’s logo) rather than actively attempting to convert others.
You do need to know, though, that termination – meaning firing – is an appropriate response to harassment. That means if your employer finds your conduct to be inappropriate for the workplace because it harasses other workers, it can fire you; and in this case, your employer most likely would not be violating your religious rights.
Do You Need to Talk to an Attorney About Being Fired for Talking About Religion in the Workplace?
If you believe you were wrongfully fired for talking about religion in the workplace and that your activities didn’t constitute harassment or infringe on other workers’ rights, we may be able to help you. If you’re not sure whether your employer violated your religious rights, give us a call at 818-230-8380 or fill out the form below; we’ll evaluate your case and give you the legal advice you need.