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What are the pitfalls of religious gatherings on our property?

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in Human Resources,People Management,The HR Specialist Forum

One of our employees has come to me with a request that makes me nervous. She wants to invite co-workers to attend Bible study sessions on our company’s premises. The gatherings would take place before working hours in a staff picnic area on our grounds. We don’t have any kind of policy addressing this. Are there any legal or other issues I should consider before I decide what to do?—SJM, Fla.



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{ 7 comments… read them below or add one }

Mary October 21, 2009 at 3:35 pm

Why would employees fear it would be held against them if they didn’t go? Go or don’t go according to your own convictions. That is between you and God – not you and your fellow employees.

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Darrel August 4, 2009 at 7:25 pm

Melissa and Letty are right on. It couldn’t be explained any better.

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Letty July 29, 2009 at 10:56 am

I think it is so sad that we have come to so much debate as to whether this is right or wrong. What is wrong with people today, praying should be as natural as breathing. This country was founded on christian values. If we are not careful, our right to pray even in our home might also be taken away.

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Betsy July 29, 2009 at 9:36 am

We recently had an employee get permission from the CEO for a prayer meeting at lunch time. Other employees complained that they were in a lose-lose. They prefer to keep their beliefs/religion outside of work. If they went to the prayer meeting, it could be uncomfortable because of differences in beliefs and practices. And if they didn’t go, they feared that would be held against them. Why put employees in that position?

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Melissa July 28, 2009 at 4:31 pm

While this is certainly a potentially sticky situation, I am not aware of any legal issues IF:
1. It is made clear that this is not a company-sanctioned event
2. It is made clear that the event is strictly voluntary and the employee does not harass other employees if they refuse to attend
3. The same consideration is given to any other employee of a different religion if requested

I recently read a post where an employee had sent an office-wide email inviting co-workers to a similar-type gathering before work hours. The main response posted was that she probably shouldn’t have used the company email as a means of promotion. (see link to post at end) You may want to check your company’s email policy concerning personal emails/invitations.

The company must be consistent with all other similar groups/situations. If you treat any other group differently, religious or not, you could face religious discrimination complaints.
You may consider allowing a trial period of say, 1 month on the condition that there are no serious complaints, and if there are the employee must find another location off company property.
If you do allow the employee to hold the meetings, consider writing up an agreement that the employee signs and at least one other person witnesses that outlines the nature of the meeting, the fact that it is not company sponsored, if you have a trail period (how long), and that the company reserves the right to discontinue permission to hold the event after the trial period.

This may be a good time to review the company handbook and consider drafting a policy concerning any non-company related meetings on company property.

See related post and responses at http://www.businessmanagementdaily.com/articles/19732/1/Does-law-protect-Bible-study-on-company-premises/Page1.html

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Patty July 28, 2009 at 4:18 pm

It wouldn’t be much different then allowing employees to have a birthday or holiday celebration on your premises. As long as it is voluntary, on their own time and in a location where it does not interfere with the work of other employees. In the case Brown vs. Polk County, argued in the Eighth Circuit Court of Appeals, deals with Bible studies and other religious references in the workplace. First Amendment rights apply in that situation. Employees can have a Bible study unless there’s a prohibition of all meetings by all employees. If the employer allows employees to discuss football on their lunchtime, they must also allow employees to discuss the Bible.

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DRN, Texas July 28, 2009 at 3:53 pm

Great question. I have he same exact situation at my office. Please help!!!!

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