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Mandating New-Age spirituality at work can trigger an Old-School lawsuit

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in Discrimination and Harassment,Hiring,HR Management,Human Resources

While you can encourage employees to follow certain Judeo-Christian values at work, such as cooperation, honesty and kindness, it’s never appropriate to require adherence to a particular religion or religious practices.

Even if your organization’s leaders have strong religious beliefs, it must accommodate workers who don’t agree with that stance. That may mean excusing workers from retreats, prayer groups or other religious-based activities.

Never retaliate for religious reasons and make sure religious belief (or lack of) never becomes a hiring, promotion or benefits criterion.

Recent case: The owner of a log-home building company required employees to carry a copy of the company’s core values, which includes “spirituality.” He also required participation in mind-body energy seminars, during which employees were to cleanse negative energy from past lives.

The so-called cleansing occurred through “muscle testing” where employees would extend their arms while answering a question while another person pushed down on their arms. If the arms resisted, the answer to the question was “yes”; if the arms could be pushed down, it was “no.”

Soon after sales rep Doyle Ollis objected to the sessions because of his Protestant beliefs, he was accused of sexual harassment. The owner investigated via “muscle testing.” Ollis failed and was fired.

Ollis sued for religious discrimination, saying he was retaliated against for objecting to the seminars on religious grounds. A jury sided with him and the appeals court agreed. (Ollis v. HearthStone Homes, No. 06-2852, 8th Cir., 2007)

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