You’d like to start a lunchtime Bible study group for your fellow employees. Or maybe hang a favorite Bible verse on your cubicle wall. Or perhaps wear a Christian t-shirt to work on the production line. Or even simply wish your co-workers a Merry Christmas.
But you’re scared, because you’ve been hearing so much lately about restrictions on religious freedom, especially when it comes to expressing our Christian faith. So instead of sharing the reason for your hope, instead of telling the people around you about the love of Jesus Christ, you’ve decided the only safe thing to do is clam up, keep your faith to yourself in the workplace, become a closet Christian on the job.
Well, I have good news! You don’t have to hide your Christian perspective; you don’t have to be intimidated into silence; and you don’t have to be afraid to openly proclaim your faith! You can be a Christian at work!
More than 40 years ago, our nation boldly enacted a law known as the Civil Rights Act of 1964. When we think of that groundbreaking achievement, we most often reflect on the precious protections it extended to prevent all forms of employment discrimination based on race. But sometimes overlooked in light of the overwhelming importance of that vital and necessary step against the scourge of racial discrimination is another section of that same law – a section that applies specifically to religious freedom in the workplace.
Under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act, employers are prohibited from discriminating against individuals because of their religion in hiring, firing and other terms and conditions of employment. What does this legal jargon mean? How does it apply to you?
For starters, it means employers cannot treat you any less favorably because of your religious beliefs or practices, nor can they force you to stop participating in religious activities as a condition of your employment. In other words, they can’t hold your faith against you! That’s good news, but it gets even better!
Title VII also means your employer must let you engage in religious practices and expression. And not only must your employer permit you to practice and express your faith, they actually have to make “reasonable accommodation” for you to do it! Yes, that means your employer might even have to make changes in your work environment just to allow you to live your faith at work! Examples include flexible scheduling, voluntary substitutions, job reassignments, and modifications of other workplace practices. And, yes, you are ordinarily permitted to organize voluntary prayer groups, wear religious clothing, and hang a Bible verse on your private office wall!
Amazingly, Title VII of the Civil Rights Act goes even further than just granting you freedom of religion in the workplace. Under the law, your employer is actually required to take affirmative steps to protect you from being harassed because of your religion! Plus, your employer cannot retaliate against you if you ever oppose any of their employment practices that discriminate based on religion.
Certainly, there are some situations where Christians need to be respectful of employer policies that might restrict our religious freedom, especially if there’s an issue of workplace hazard involved. For example, if you work in a machine shop where no jewelry is allowed for obvious safety reasons, you can’t (and shouldn’t) insist on wearing your cross necklace on the job. And, of course, your efforts to be a witness for Christ in the workplace can’t (and shouldn’t) cross the line into harassment of co-workers or customers.
Also, you should be aware that some places of employment may not be covered by Title VII of the Civil Rights Act (In general, all employers with 15 or more employees, including state and local governments, the federal government, government agencies, and labor organizations are covered.) If you work for a small employer that might not appear to be covered, check your local and state laws, because many states and localities have extended the protections of the Act to smaller employers as well.
So here’s the legal bottom line. Unless your Christian practices or expression would impose an undue hardship on your employer (and the law makes it pretty tough for employers to show undue hardship), you have every right to bring your faith to work! So go ahead, express yourself! Be a Christian at work! Be a witness for Christ! And while you’re at it, wish a colleague "Merry Christmas!"
*This column contains generalized information only and is not intended as a substitute for the specific legal advice of your own attorney.
Stephen L. Bloom is a Christian lawyer serving clients throughout Pennsylvania. He wrote The Believer's Guide to Legal Issues (Living Ink Books) and frequently speaks on Christianity and law. For information, visit his website www.IsThereALawyerInTheChurch.com.
Article reprinted from Stephen Bloom's Good News Daily column titled "Good News on the Law." Visit Good News Daily's website at http://www.goodnewsdaily.net/