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Employees in the United States are mainly protected by Title VII statute of the Civil Rights Act of 1964. The statute forbids an employer from discriminating against employees on the basis of religion, sex, race, color or national origin. Religion here entails all religious practices, observance and beliefs.
The EEOC which is the equal Employment Opportunity Commission oversees the implementation of Title VII. In 1966, the EEOC attempted to spell out an employer’s obligation with respect to religion. Under Title VII, an employer must be reasonable in accommodating employees’ religions, unless it affects his or her business.
Employees’ religious speech at their work place is protected by the First Amendment’s free speech and exercises clause. The free-exercise clause states that individuals will not be prevented from practicing their religious faith freely by the government (Rich, 2008).
Moreover, an employee should be able to make legitimate expressions or comments at his or her work place. These comments on various issues are legitimate if they outweigh his or her employer’s interest in efficient and proficient working.
Some cases of religious harassment at work may be directed at the employees’ symbolic expression, such as adorning religious attire or other items that have religious significance. Others are about employees being prohibited from talking about their religion to co workers. An example of litigation over religious practice is, Mr. Jesse Cook, a 7th day Adventist who was terminated from work due to absenteeism.
This is because he always missed work on Saturday to observe the Sabbath day for Adventist (Cook vs. Chrysler Corp 60). In almost all of such cases, an employee insists that an employer’s course of action conflicted on his or her right to religious freedom. Employers maintain that they subdued an employee’s religious expression to avoid an establishment-clause conflict during litigation.
Similarities between title VII and First Amendment
It may seem like there is a conflict between the Free Exercise clause of the First Amendment and Title VII statute of the Civil Rights Act of 1964. Mr. Cook sued Chrysler on the basis that he was sacked on religious basis thereby denying him his free-exercise rights under First amendment. However Chrysler won the case; the district felt that Chrysler had made efforts to meet Mr. Cooks according to Title VII. If we take an in depth look at the dimensions of the laws we realize that there is no confliction as such.
A worker’s religiously aggravated expressions of faith are protected by the Title VII statute. For example, while talking with other employees, he or she may refer to bible teachings on laziness or good work ethics.
Employees can talk religious matters as long as the talk is not a nuisance to other employees or disrupts the routine of work. If it is considered correct for an employee to use computer programs and applications like screen savers for communication, then the employee should also be allowed to apply the same kind of communication to send religious message.
The government is not justified to disallow religious expression at workplaces by the Establishment Clause of the First Amendment. The clause does not allow the government to consider religion and the people who practice and teach it as seditious. Likewise Title VII statute supports religious practice, observance and beliefs.
Employees still have their First Amendment rights once they are working for an employer. Title VII statute and the First Amendment both provide protection for an employee’s religious rights. Employers should seek advice on how to handle work related religious issues. They should be informed of their rights since it is not legitimate for them to have their productivity drop due to employees indulging religious matters.
United States District Court, COOK v. CHRYSLER CORP (1992). Missouri.
Rich, S. (2008) First Amendment: The Right of Expression. Minneapolis. ABDO Publishing Group.