Tag Archive | harassment

Basic Rules for Responding to a Human Rights Claim

What should you do when you receive a claim from the Human Rights Commission or Equal Employment Opportunity Commission?  How you respond sets a tone for the charge, and also for defense of possible claims arising after the response.  Here are five suggestions that should guide your response:

  1. Contact your EPLI carrier if you have insurance, and coordinate with counsel.  Prompt reporting of a claim is a requirement of all insurance.  An agency charge may be the first step to litigation, and input from counsel to investigate, review, and coordinate defense is important.
  2. Be accurate and inclusive.  Conduct a sufficient investigation to verify the information.  Also, preserve all pertinent information and documents, and avoid future spoliation issues by suspending document destruction practices.
  3. Explain how your business works.  Details about your organization may help provide context for your actions.
  4. Recount all that happened completely.  Even if the charge includes only an imprecise allegation, a comprehensive response with justification for all decisions is preferable.  This includes making all necessary witnesses available, and you must ensure confidentiality and no retaliation during the interview process.
  5. Provide context for the charge.  Outlining your consistent past actions displays that your organization is responsible and treated the current employee the same as others.

Religious discrimination under Title VII, Part 2

“There are three things I have learned never to discuss with people… Religion, Politics, and The Great Pumpkin. ” ― Charles M. Schulz

Employers are not required to know all tenets of different belief systems, thus employees must put them on notice to request accommodation.  But a “religious belief” does not require a recognized church or denomination.  An employee need only give adequate information to an employer to invoke protection.  Religious observance is not limited to prayer or worship; it can include dietary choices or declining to work on particular days or in certain ways.  If requests are made for secular reasons, though, an employer can refuse the request.  But employers must be careful about questioning beliefs.  The law requires that the belief must be sincerely held.  EEOC guidance provides that when the employee acts inconsistently with the belief, when the request appears made for secular reasons, when the timing of a request is suspicious, or when a religious request follows the denial of a secular request, then the sincerity of a belief may be questioned.

Creating a policy setting out how to make a request for accommodation is a must.  Also, many employers have a sexual harassment policy.  However, a better practice is to create a more general anti-harassment policy that covers all protected categories, including religion. Religion can be a unifying force, but it can also cause a great deal of strife.  Protecting against strife and discrimination based on religious belief in the workplace is essential.

Religious discrimination under Title VII

“Religious liberty might be supposed to mean that everybody is free to discuss religion. In practice it means that hardly anybody is allowed to mention it.” ― G.K. Chesterton

That comment may be a bit extreme, but it has a kernel of truth in the workplace.  In light of the upheaval this week over Quran burning and Muslim and Christian tensions, Title VII employers should remember that they must not allow religion to become a workplace issue. Employers spend a lot of time training to guard against race and sex discrimination, but they may not spend enough time monitoring other protected classes. The federal Civil Rights Act prohibits an employer from discriminating against employees on the basis of religion. This can be by harassment, failure to provide reasonable accommodation, or adverse employment action.

Employers cannot hire, fire, discipline, or require different or stricter requirements because of religious beliefs. A hostile environment can occur if there is pervasive, unwelcome conduct motivated by religious belief that results in an intimidating or offensive workplace.

Sometimes an employer must balance the interests of those who wish to proselytize or openly perform a religious act with those who are offended. Employers can accommodate those offended by excusing them from certain work requirements or alternating breaks so that different groups have less interaction. A policy restricting outside information or promotion of outside activities may be warranted but must be evenly enforced as to all outside activities. Thus, if an employer prevents employees from posting literature on a tent revival in the break room, it should be consistent and prohibit school fundraiser brochures and Girl Scout cookies too.