Company values, sure – but not religious discrimination in the workplace

by on December 31, 2008 · 0 Comment POSTED IN: HR Info Center

Make sure that values and ethics training doesn’t cross the line into religious discrimination at work

It’s been demonstrated time and time again that shared values bring employees closer together, improving productivity and creativity.

Knowing this, you may well have programs in place to advance your company’s essential values. You may even be fervent about it.

But, as a workplace religious discrimination case in Nebraska shows, you need to be careful that the values you promote don’t stray into the religious arena.

Mind-body energy

The company in question believed in the business benefits of something called Mind-Body Energy theory. The company believed in it so strongly that employees were told they had to make appointments with an MBE coach or be dismissed.

One employee was offended by the “connectedness” and belief in past lives that MBE propounded. The idea of past lives conflicted with his religion, he said.

He told managers so, and before too long was fired.

Religious discrimination at work?

The employee filed a religious discrimination lawsuit, and won. A jury gave him a symbolic $1 in damages, but that wasn’t the end of the story. The company also had to pony up $19,000 in attorneys’ fees for its ex-employee.

Where did the employer go wrong? The firm no doubt had good motives, but it allowed its values training to cross the line into spiritual advice.

Remember: If your values training is about influencing attitudes and behavior at work, you’re probably all right. If it starts to be about the way people behave, or what they believe, in their private lives, you’ve no doubt crossed a line and expose your company to a workplace religious discrimination claim.

Cite: Ollis v. Hearthstone Homes, No. 8:05CV119, D. Neb., 6/12/06.

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