Resources

These links connect you to a variety of resources and websites of interest to Christian business leaders.


 

Kingdom inc. – Best Practices to Avoiding Legal Pitfalls with a Public Witness at Work

Many Christian business owners or managers are fearful of saying anything about their faith at the workplace. But federal law provides a fair amount of freedom due to free speech considerations. And a few simple guidelines can help you avoid breaking any laws.

The two major areas of concern are discrimination and harassment.  “Far too often, employers mistakenly treat religious speech like sexual harassment and create a ‘zero tolerance’ policy for religion that is similar to policies for sexual harassment. Religious speech and sexual harassment are worlds apart, though. Religious speech enjoys both constitutional and statutory protections,” stated David Gibbs of the Christian Law Association.

The major law governing religious conversation, activity and conduct at the workplace is Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964. Title VII applies to all government work situations and private companies with 15 or more employees. According to the C12 Group, “This law is not designed to keep our faith out of the business. Instead, it is written to forbid discrimination in hiring, compensation and promotions based on race, color, religion, sex or national origin.”

 

Discrimination takes place when you show favoritism or negative attention to an employee for doing some sort of religious act or refusing to participate in some sort of religious activity that is connected in some way to the company or its management.

Harassment occurs when an employee perceives you are trying to force or pressure an employee to act, believe in some way or participate in some sort of religious activity. A clear warning sign is when you continue to do some activity or make a request that the employee has already told you makes them uncomfortable or violates one of their deeply held beliefs.

Best Practices

  • Owners, managers and employees are free to discuss religious topics at work as long as the conversations do not interfere with the job or the other parties do not object. If other people raise an objection either directly or indirectly, it is best to stop discussing it with those people or around them. You are still free to carry on religious conversations away from those people at the workplace as long as it doesn’t interfere with your work.
  • Business owners or supervisors may communicate their religious beliefs through their company policies and actions as well as their own speech provided that 1.) they do not give prospective or current employees the perception that employment, advancement or compensation is based on their adopting certain religious beliefs or practices, 2.)they reasonably accommodate employee objections, 3.) they do not require employees to participate in religious services or activities.
  • If a company allows non-work conversations to take place at the office during work hours, the company cannot prohibit religious conversation. For example, if workers informally gather around the water cooler or in break rooms to discuss family, politics, current events, the company could be in violation of discrimination laws if religious speech is forbidden.
  • If an employee raises a religious objection about something, the company should note that concern and work to provide the employee an accommodation that answers their objection. Under no circumstances should the employee be reprimanded, fined or disciplined for raising the religious inquiry. Companies should be prepared to accommodate employee objections to the religious speech contained within publications distributed by the company.
  • Everybody wants to work for a fair company that seeks to empower employees to do their best. Ask yourself, “How can I run my business according to Biblical principles?”
  • Never require employees to participate in worship, pray, or adopt religious beliefs. The only exception is churches and other religious organizations that are generally exempt from Title VII requirements.
  • Develop company policies regarding religious conversation and other speech in the workplace. Follow those policies and ensure that they don’t lead to any discrimination or harassing behavior. It is generally best to have your lawyer or legal expert review the policies before implementing them.
  • Develop company materials (ex: applications, manuals, forms) that state your non-discrimination policy and make sure to include religion.
  • If a dispute rises involving religious activity, document everything and follow your policy guidelines regarding dispute resolution. The final step should be third party arbitration if necessary.
  • Companies are allowed to regulate speech and communicate done on behalf of the company with clients and third parties outside of the organization. But these policies need to be followed in all situations and should not suggest discrimination in favor of any particular religion or belief.
  • Many companies allow workers to post pictures or small items around their office space. If an employer has a general office decoration policy, it must not make an exemption for religious displays or speech by either allowing or excluding such displays.
  • “The EEOC says that employers can include prayer in business meetings (and even hold religious services) as long as participation is truly voluntary,” wrote Alison Green in magazine. And employers can hold regular devotional meetings or religious instruction for employees as long as attendance is not required or the basis for any promotion, compensation or discipline.
  • In order to file a complaint based on Title VII, an employee must demonstrate 1.) the worker holds a sincere religious belief that conflicts with an employee requirement, 2.) the individual notified a supervisor of the concern, and 3.) the employee was discharged, disciplined, or subjected to discriminatory treatment for failing to comply with the employer request.

A prudent man foresees evil and hides himself; but the simple pass on and are punished.” (Proverbs 22:3)

 

Disclaimer: This handout offers general legal principles and is not intended to replace detailed legal advice for your situation. If you have questions, you should consult your attorney or another legal expert.