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Don’t let religious employees badger other workers

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

As a born-again Christian, Kenneth Weiss says he is required to share his religious beliefs with others, including co-workers. But for some, working with him was hell.

He condemned co-workers, telling a lesbian subordinate that she would go to hell; continually tried to convert a Muslim; attempted to "lay hands" on employees without their permission; and prayed over a broken machine rather than calling a repairman.

Some workers were afraid to complain about the harassment because Weiss was a supervisor. One worker considered suing the company for allowing the harassment to continue; the Muslim considered resigning; and a new worker called a supervisor with concerns about harassment when, during a farewell party for another employee on her first day, Weiss repeatedly urged her to attend church.

The company told Weiss he could discuss religion with those who were willing but that he couldn't pester the unwilling. He didn't take the counseling seriously and became threatening during one meeting. He also received warnings for job performance problems and for leaving his shift early.

When the company fired Weiss for insubordination and religious harassment, he claimed religious discrimination. A jury agreed. But a judge threw out the verdict, saying it was "against the great weight of evidence." (Weiss v. Ren Laboratories of Florida, No. 94-6333-Civ-Roettger, S.D. Fla., 1999)

Advice: You have not only the right but a duty to keep your workplace free of religious harassment. Guard against any extreme conduct that disrupts your workplace.

This employer had ample evidence that co-workers didn't welcome these religious discussions, its policies barred harassment of any kind and it repeatedly warned Weiss that he was going too far. Note that the employer didn't tell Weiss he couldn't have any religious discussions. If both participants are willing, religious discussions may be fine.

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