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Can an Evangelical Christian Ask For a Religious Accommodation? (re: Sharing His Faith)

Imagine this.  You're an evangelical Christian, and that means you're called to spread the good word to anyone and everyone.  It just so happens that you're a manager of people, many of whom don't share your exact beliefs.  Probably not going to end well if you're convinced that you have to spread the word as a manager, right?  Just happened to a guy I'll call "Mr. Weathers" at Fedex.  Read it and brace for impact - More from HR Morning:

"Weathers described himself as a conservative evangelical Christian. He was a member of an internal organization of Christian FedEx employees, and he spoke at company sales conferences about his faith.  But his beliefs apparently caused some conflict in the workplace. One of his direct reports filed a complaint Heston alleging that Weathers discriminated against her.

She alleged that Weathers quoted scripture to her on numerous occasions, and that he had recited a portion of the Bible that says a “slave should be obedient to his master” — meaning that the employee should be obedient to Weathers."

Slave reference rationalized through Christian beliefs. Ok!  I'm guessing this is where the boot is going to come down on Weathers, because let's face it, you can't have that.  FedEx did what you would probably do, which is to tell Weathers he managed people of various beliefs and probably needed to tone down the rhetoric and just manage:

"FedEx officials investigated, talking to a range of employees about Weather’s behavior. Some employees raised questions about Weathers’ leadership style, but the general consensus was that he treated co-workers fairly. 

FedEx concluded that Weathers hadn’t violated any company policies. But it issued him a letter of “counseling” — a form of discipline that’s less serious than a letter of “warning” — and told him discussions of religion with other employees “must cease.”  The reason: FedEx felt that allowing Weathers to continue to talk about his religious beliefs would create a hostile work environment for his co-workers."

But it's never that easy, right?  Weathers tested the waters and asked a loaded question related to what he could do based on his religious beliefs.  He was later fired and then sued, saying he was fired when he asked for a religious accommodation he never got an answer to:

"A short time later, Weathers sent an email to his supervisor and an HR rep, asking for clarification on the ban of religious discussion. As an evangelical Christian, Weathers said, he was obligated to answer any religious questions he was asked.  Weathers didn’t receive a response to this email, which he characterized as a request for religious accommodation.

A few months later, Weathers was demoted for performance reasons and later quit. He then sued FedEx for religious discrimination, failure to accommodate his religious beliefs, hostile work environment and emotional distress.

The court tossed all of Weathers’ claims except religious accommodation."

That's a doozy.  An evangelical Christian who is also a manager of people.  A cease and desist from the company related to discussion of religion.  A request for clarification on what he could discuss that later was positioned as a request for religious accommodation.

This is where your head explodes as a HR pro on a Wednesday afternoon.  You're welcome.  

Comments

Rodney

So basically he was terminated for the "Fear of a possible future Hostile Environment" versus actually creating one? Strange. Though the article provides limited details it sounds like he was fair to his employees and was not engaging in any behavior that was discriminatory. FedEx seems to have taken the approach that it is unacceptable to discuss or exercise your faith at work. Not sure that will work out for them in the long run should they take that approach on someone with a belief system based on anything other than Evangelical Christianity. I guess they've declared their position pretty well. But hey, that's why we have so many lawyers right?

Heather Bussing

KD -my guess is that the court didn't rule in his favor, it just said it needed to hear evidence-- the claim of discrimination based on religion was viable- and it is. It's not a strong one and I doubt the employee will win at the end of the day. But there is an argument that he was terminated because of his religion.

Don't hold you're breath. As demographics shift, it won't be long before the 50 year old white guys are bringing claims.

WarriorCIO

There's a difference in answering questions regarding one's faith and forcing your religious views down someone's throat at work. The article doesn't provide alot of detail regarding his performance prior to the issue. He may well have been a mediocre employee that drew attention to his mediocrity when he began to cause uncomfortable situations for Corporate. Interesting to see how this plays out.

warriorcio.com

Laurelannk

No, my head isn't exploding. This is a normal day for me. My observation, based on the information provided, is that whoever received that email should have offered at least the courtesy of a reply -- a "come on in and let's discuss this" which would have satisfied the court's expectation for the interactive process that is supposed to happen in these situations. The letter of counseling may have stood, but the outcome of the discussion could have been reasonable guidelines for this manager to continue to be a good manager and practice his faith at the same time. Someone in Fedex dropped the ball, and that's why they are in court. It might not end in victory for the employee, but it certainly created an expensive mess for all involved. Totally avoidable with the courtesy of a reply. And it sounds like they lost a good manager in the process.

HRMS Software

This is interesting indeed. I've met some conservative Christian who make for great bosses, living up to their faith and words. Sometimes, a misguided belief can do great damage, though.

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