Discrimination by Employers

Pressuring Workers To Be ‘Spiritual’ Isn’t The Answer To The Office Blues

  Rob Boston

The New York Times on Sunday ran a lengthy piece about a new trend in corporate America: hiring “divinity consultants” for the workplace.

What do these people do? As The Times put it, divinity consultants – who are also known as ritual consultants, sacred designers and soul-centered advertisers – have this goal: “Their business is borrowing from religious tradition to bring spiritual richness to corporate America.”

If you think this could be a real problem, you’re right. To put it simply, it’s no business of secular employers to meddle in the spiritual or non-spiritual lives of their workers. Under federal law, it’s illegal to intentionally discriminate against an employee because of their religious or non-religious beliefs. In addition, employers are required to make certain accommodations to meet employees’ religious beliefs or practices. An entire body of case law exists to flesh out how these rules are applied, but it’s safe to say that if your boss is pressuring you to take part in a religious practice or even be “spiritual” when you don’t want to, there will be trouble.  

The Times story touches on these issues, noting, “Another challenge is that many workers are already devout on their own terms, on their own time, and are not at all hungry for soul-based activities between 9 and 5.”

But it isn’t just devout workers who might object. I can certainly understand why a Christian of any stripe might oppose rituals that mimic the style of faith but that have been decoupled from it, but it’s easy to see why a non-believer would also have concerns. The slippery, “New Age” feel of these “rituals” makes them not for everyone. Pressuring employees to take part in such activities is only going to spark litigation.

Office workers are certainly facing some serious issues right now. Most workplaces are closed, and working from home can present unique stresses, including a sense of social isolation. The best way for employers to deal with that is not to assume that everyone is yearning for a shot of spirituality. Rather, they should support their workers with the coping mechanisms of the workers’ choice. Ensuring that company health care plans cover whatever sort of counseling an employee finds best suits his or her needs would also be a good step.

P.S. If you feel your religious freedom rights are being violated at your job, report it to AU. We may be able to help.

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