The United States District Court for the Western District of Kentucky recently ruled on a particularly difficult religious accommodation question, which considered the question of how far an employer can go in prohibiting an employee from expressing religious views in the workplace.
In this case (Civil Action NO.3:07CV-414-H), the employee was a nurse at Louisville Medical Center. She believed that from reading her Bible, she had calculated the date for either the end of the world or the coming of the Antichrist as being 12/21/2033. She also believed that her religion compelled her to share her views with her co-workers. Her co-workers objected to being constantly subjected to her views on religion, and repeatedly asked her not to talk about the subject. When she continued to share her theory and issue warnings about the end of the world, her co-workers complained to their manager. They indicated they were uncomfortable with such extreme views and a few of them admitted to being scared by the depth of her belief and the fervor with which she expressed these views on a daily basis. The manager had a conversation with the nurse and told her to stop or face disciplinary action. Although she was not disciplined, she resigned as a result of the conversation. She then filed a lawsuit against her employer, contending that she had been discriminated against on the basis of her religious views.
The Court ruled in favor of the employer, noting that the employee could not show failure to accommodate her religious views because she had failed to show that her employer took any adverse action against her. The Court went on to conclude that, even if she had been disciplined, she still could not state a failure to accommodate claim, because the employer was not required to accommodate her religious beliefs under this circumstance. In this ruling, the Court relied on the federal court precedent in Title VII cases to find that an employer does not have an obligation to accommodate an employee’s desire to impose her religious views on co-workers by harassing them.
Dealing with religion in any form in the workplace is always a tricky issue. It is an emotional issue for many people, and they may very well believe that their religion compels them to share their views. An employer who tries to prohibit all forms of religious expression will likely end up in court. But when an employee’s expression consists of impressing their views on co-workers who object to the content or manner in which it is delivered, an employer can and should ask the employee to stop. If the behavior continues, the employer has every right to impose discipline.