Employers Cannot Require Employees to Attend Religious Classes or Courses

In late 2012, a dentist in Oregon ran afoul of the law when he threatened to fire an employee unless she attended a 3 day Scientology seminar. Last week, the EEOC sued a Florida employer (coincidentally owned by a doctor) for religious discrimination based on the employer’s requirement that employees attend courses that involved Scientology. Employees were required to spend a significant portion of their works days in courses that involved Scientology religious practices, and one employee was required to undergo a Scientology audit and “purification” treatment at the Church of Scientology. The employer also instructed employees to attend courses at the Church of Scientology. When two of the employees refused to participate, they were fired.

The EEOC sued the employer for subjecting the employees to a hostile environment and for disparate treatment based on religion. The case is currently pending in U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Florida. http://eeoc.gov/eeoc/newsroom/release/5-9-13.cfm

Regardless of the outcome of the case, employers need to be aware that coercing employees to participate in religious observance or practices, and firing them if they refuse, is against the law – regardless of the religion involved or the employer’s good faith beliefs.

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