Religious Discrimination & Prayer At Work: Employers Who Pray

The EEOC recently published an updated Guidance on Religious Discrimination.  The Guidance address the issue of religious discrimination in the workplace in a question-and-answer style format, as well as a “best practices” section.  We posted about the EEOC Guidance previously, in Increase in Religious-Discrimination Claims Prompts EEOC to Issue Updated Guidance. eeoc_logo

Last week, John Phillips, at The Word On Employment Law, posted an interesting piece about part of the Religious Discrimination Guidance that I hadn’t previously heard much about.  From the Guidance:

“Some employers have integrated their own religious beliefs or practices into the workplace, and they are entitled to do so.  However, if an employer holds religious services or programs to include prayer in business meetings, Title VII requires that the employer accommodate an employee who asks to be excused for religious reasons, absent a showing of undue hardship.  Excusing an employee from religious services normally does not create an undue hardship because it does not cost the employer anything and does not disrupt business operations or other workers.”

That’s correct–the EEOC’s current position on prayer in the workplace is that it ok, even if it is initiated by the employer and even if it occurs during working time–even if that means during a business meeting. 

Well, this is a new one for me.  I can’t recall a time when I advised a client that holding prayer services wouldn’t be a problem, and heck, go right ahead and pray at meetings–just make sure any dissenting employee is permitted to be excused. 

I do have clients who are employers founded on religious principles for which faith and prayer are at the core of their business structure.  But even organizations with high levels of religious practice do not conduct prayer as part of business meetings.

The comments that follow John’s post are very insightful.  I’d add this:

Believe it or not, I think the market would regulate this problem much more than one might initially think.  Even at organizations that are considered to be religious at their core, I can only imagine the outcry if prayer was held at the start of the meeting.  My phone would be ringing off its hook.  And a mutiny would likely follow.  If the company wants to retain its staff, it will have to forgo the pre-meeting prayer.  And the more successful the organization, the larger the organization, and the more staff the organization must hire and retain.  Any organization that understands the challenges of hiring and retention efforts would be at a real disadvantage to institute prayer at meetings if the meeting attendees weren’t likely to think favorably of it.

And those are my two cents on the EEOC’s latest Guidance on Religious Discrimination.

Updated:

3 responses to “Religious Discrimination & Prayer At Work: Employers Who Pray”

  1. Keith says:

    I’ll point you to ServiceMaster… check out their website and core principles… especially the one about Honor God in all that we do. Prayer before meetings is common and they have done nothing to establish common HR guidelines to protect themselves. Yes the 1st Amendment and the EEOC does allow for prayer… but Title VII protects against a hostile work environment and several rulings have shown that Title VII may expose this practice to some liability. If it is pervasive and adversely impacts a person or their performance… The easy out is to allow for prayer prior to any meeting so those who do not wish to participate may show up later… obviously this has some other issues attached as in the real world not fitting in will cause or have the perception of causing adverse reactions. The bottom line is that there needs to be a balance between the freedom of speech, the freedom of religion WITH the freedom from discrimination or a hostile work environment. The laws protects our beliefs, but not always our actions. So in a smart company, like criticism, praise in public, pray in private. 🙂

  2. Travis says:

    I start my business day with a prayer and I was curious whether or not once I start hiring employees if I would have a legal problem. I can see why you advise against it but it’s good to know that there isn’t a law prohibiting prayer at work. Thanks!

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