Supporting some employee groups but not others is not religious discrimination in the workplace

by on January 14, 2009 · 0 Comment POSTED IN: HR Info Center

Court backs a firm’s policy against religion-based affinity groups

Some companies think that sponsoring employee affinity groups is a promising way to celebrate diversity, boost morale and help maintain high performance.

But affinity groups, usually based on a common characteristic like ethnicity, language or culture, can trigger religious discrimination lawsuits.

If you decide to support legitimate group solidarity among employees, you may want to take extra care to make sure it doesn’t backfire in court.

No politics or religion
Let’s look at a recent case in Indiana. A company’s policy granted material assistance to approved affinity groups. To be approved, a group had to meet guidelines that barred groups based on a political or religious affiliation.

An employee tried to organize an interdenominational Christian Employee Network, but the company turned him down based on its policy. The employee sued for religious discrimination in the workplace.

Freedom to associate
A federal court said no, he wasn’t a victim of religious discrimination at work. Under company policy, the employee would have gotten the same treatment no matter what his religious beliefs were – or even if he had tried to organize an atheist affinity group, the court said.

What’s the takeaway?

You can set policy allowing affinity groups based on almost any legal activity or characteristic – indeed, some companies do sponsor groups based on religion or philosophy. If you’re consistent, and employees can join any group they want, you should pass muster.

Cite: Moranski v. General Motors Corp., No. 05-1803, 7th Cir., 12/29/05.

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