The Nexsen Pruet law firm’s quarterly “Employment Law” newsletter leads with “Holiday Tips to Avoid Religious Discrimination in the Workplace.” This time of year can be fraught with unnecessary problems and tension if some employees decide to push the envelope on what is appropriate conduct in a place of business.
The section of the newsletter discussing displays of religious symbols is the biggest potential problem area. Generally, small displays that do not interfere with the business would be acceptable. Proselytizing can constitute harassment if it persists. In a memo revised earlier this year, the US Equal Employment Opportunity Commission says that an “employer may not place more restrictions on religious expression than on other forms of expression that have a comparable effect on workplace efficiency.”
As a general rule, it’s a good management practice to keep political, religious and ethnic symbols to a minimum and outside of general public display. It’s one thing to have something in one’s office or work area; it’s another to foist it on a co-worker or patient. An employee is not protected against seeing the symbols per se – people have to respect each other and get along.
In private settings, there is more freedom as to allowing prayer and religious meetings and study groups. You want to steer clear of two issues: you treat employee meetings on your property as you do any other expression (say, a labor union) or de facto pressure on an employee to either join the group or be left out. In most practice settings, I would not allow it. In large organizations, I might.