What kind of religious rights do employees of private employers have in the workplace? Private employers must accommodate reasonable religious expression in the workplace, but they must also protect against discrimination or harassment.
Some individuals, including evangelical Christians, who believe that an essential part of their faith is to convert others and spread the word of God, strongly feel that the workplace should not be excluded in their attempt to inform their colleagues of the enthusiasm that they feel for God. However, if employees are unreasonably intrusive toward other employees regarding their religious beliefs, and discrimination or harassment could result, an employee is typically not allowed to exert his or her religious faith at work. Therefore, unless an employee’s colleagues are accepting of his or her proselytization, such conduct is usually not allowed by employers.
Just as federal workers are allowed to practice their religion as long as it does not affect workplace efficiency or could be seen as government endorsement of religion, private employers are bound to discourage their employees from practicing their religion when it could be seen as corporate endorsement of religion or could reduce efficiency in the workplace.
Interestingly, some corporations not only offer access to their corporate facilities for religious gatherings, but also offer budgets that could run into the thousands of dollars. Such endorsement results from the theory that employees who connect through their religion at work become more engaged in their work. Employers who generously offer their services for religious purposes believe that religion in the workplace actually promotes efficiency, even though there still exists a resounding risk of corporate endorsement of religion and potential lawsuits for discrimination and harassment.
Reconciling increased workplace efficiency resulting from the practice of religion by employees in the workplace with possible intrusion of religious beliefs by certain employees, Ford Motor Co. has developed an interfaith model that allows faith-based groups to form as long as they work jointly as part of an interfaith network.
The interfaith model does seem to exist at the financial expense of Ford. For example, religious accommodation through the interfaith network includes providing Muslim workers with a place for foot-washing and prayer, allowing Christians to punctuate e-mails with a Bible verse, or serving Jewish employees the proper cake during Passover. Although these accommodations come at a cost, perhaps these expenses are minimal compared to the communion that the employees obtain through their religious beliefs and faiths, effecting increased employee efficiency and serving both the employee and the employer in the long run. Potential lawsuits are also reduced in the interfaith model because the diversity of religions involved tends to offend fewer employees.