By Eric B. Meyer
I’ll be the first to admit that I don’t know much about Scientology.
Why, my Scientology acumen could fill a thimble. Basically, I know that Tom Cruise is a Scientologist and Katie Holmes was a Scientologist; but, not any more.
Yeah, so anyway, last week, I read with interest, this EEOC press release, in which the federal agency announced that it had settled with a Florida employer that had allegedly tried to force Scientology on its employees.
What the EEOC lawsuit said
Here’s what the EEOC specifically claimed was happening in the workplace:
The EEOC charged in its suit that Dynamic Medical Services, Inc. (“DMS”) required Norma Rodriguez, Maykel Ruz, Rommy Sanchez, Yanileydis Capote and other employees to spend at least half their work days in courses that involved Scientology religious practices, such as screaming at ashtrays or staring at someone for eight hours without moving. The company also instructed employees to attend courses at the Church of Scientology. Additionally, the company required Sanchez to undergo an “audit” by connecting herself to an “E-meter,” which Scientologists believe is a religious artifact, and required her to undergo “purification” treatment at the Church of Scientology.”
What the settlement requires
You can find a copy of the EEOC’s federal court complaint here.
The press release indicates that the employer will pay $170,000 as part of a consent decree. It will also require:
- The employer to accommodate employees who complain about attending and/or participating in religious courses or other religious work-related activities for religious reasons;
- To notify EEOC if employees request a religious accommodation;
- To adopt an anti-discrimination policy that explains to employees their rights under Title VII with respect to religious discrimination; and,
- To conduct training for Dynamic Medical Services employees covering Title VII, and specifically focusing on religious discrimination.
Lessons for employers
So what can employers learn from this? I’ve got two takeaways.
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- Proselytize at your own risk. As I’ve discussed on this blog before, proselytizing, an effort to convert someone to a particular religion, is not prohibited per se in the workplace. This is because federal anti-discrimination law does not require that the workplace be sanitized of all religion (e.g., a Christmas tree, menorah, etc.).
- Where employers cross the line is by requiring participation in certain forms of religious expression (e.g., Scientology) without reasonably accommodating those who feel that participation would conflict with a sincerely held religious belief. So, if my employer wants me to get my Scientology on by screaming at ashtrays, and doing so doesn’t conflict with my own sincerely held religious beliefs, then I’d better start screaming.
Scrutinize particular religions at your own risk, too. All it takes is a sincerely held religious belief.
Handling religion in the workplace
Just because an employee believes that his religion should involve purification treatments and using an e-meter, doesn’t mean that you as the employer have the right to second-guess it. Doing so will inevitably lead to a religious-discrimination claim.
Want to sanitize your workplace of religion altogether? Knock yourself out. But, don’t make exceptions for particular religious groups (e.g., allowing Christmas trees and menorahs, but not e-meters). That’s another recipe for a religious discrimination claim.
Even so, if an employee requires a reasonable accommodation related to his religion, you may need to provide it, unless doing so will cause undue hardship (i.e., added cost to the employer or an imposition on co-workers).
This was originally published on Eric B. Meyer’s blog, The Employer Handbook.