Don’t tolerate employee’s religious threats

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in Discrimination and Harassment,Human Resources,Leaders & Managers,Performance Reviews

Employees are entitled to broad protection from discrimination based on their religious beliefs and practices. However, that protection has limits.

Consider, for example, what may happen if an employee tries to bludgeon—figuratively—her fellow employees with her religious beliefs.

Recent case: Vernessa Averett worked for Honda of America Mfg. Apparently employees on the shop floor frequently targeted each other for teasing and downright verbal abuse.

Averett, who claimed to be very religious, often told her co-workers that she was confident God would punish them because they were “evildoers” who would face eternal damnation.

Because Averett had previously threatened to kill a co-worker, Honda took her religious pronouncements as possible threats and told her to stop.

After Honda fired Averett for poor performance, she sued, alleging religious discrimination. Her claim was essentially that, by telling her she could not proclaim that God would punish co-workers for making her work life miserable, she had been discriminated against based on her sincerely held religious belief that God avenges wrongs.

The court disagreed. It concluded that Honda had a neutral policy against any and all threats, not just religious ones. Because the anti-threat policy was neutral, it didn’t target Averett because of her religious beliefs.

Plus, there was no evidence that Averett’s religion required her to warn her co-workers about damnation. Telling her not to make the threats therefore didn’t interfere with her ability to practice her religion. Her case was dismissed. (Averett v. Honda of America, No. 2:07-CV-1167, SD OH, 2010)

Final note: Don’t take this case as an excuse not to crack down on teasing and other disruptive workplace behavior. The co-worker conduct that led Averett to invoke God’s wrath isn’t appropriate and could easily escalate to sexual, racial or other harassment.

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