Can an employer impose their religious beliefs on their employees? Most people would assume that unless they work for a church or an organization affiliated with a particular religion, their own religious beliefs (or lack of them) are irrelevant.
However, an Oregon man says that he was fired from his job with a construction company because he stopped attending a Bible study class that was a requirement for workers. He is suing the company for $800,000.
The case has received considerable media attention nationwide because it could conceivably happen to anyone anywhere in the country, including Arizona.
According to the former employee, one day the owner of the business told his workers “that he’s going to start doing a Bible study every week.” The classes, which lasted an hour, were held at a homeless shelter.
The man says that he reluctantly attended the Bible study for about six months before he spoke up and told his boss he wasn’t going to attend. He says his boss told him, “It’s mandatory. I told you that you need to be there. This is how I run my company. If you’re not going to show up to Bible study, I’m going to have to replace you.” He says that when he didn’t attend that week, he was fired.
The plaintiff and his attorney contend that this was a wrongful termination because it was based on the employee’s refusal to participate in religious activity.
The owner of the business hasn’t had much to say publicly about the case. He says he’ll respond in court regarding why he fired the plaintiff. He acknowledged that employees were paid for their attendance at the Bible study.
The company’s owner further said, “What [the plaintiff] believes is his business. I’ve never tried to say you need to believe in God or you have to pray to God.” The plaintiff, who says he’s half Native American, told a local reporter that he prays to a different deity than Christians do.
Employers are entitled to have strong religious beliefs. However, when they require employees to engage in practices that don’t align with their own beliefs (or even ones that do), they may be breaking the law. If you believe that you were fired or penalized in the workplace because of your religion or decision not to follow any particular religion, find out what your legal options are.