Mandatory quasi-religious practices enforced by an employer came under fire by the EEOC in a complaint that alleges the following:
- Defendants in the case required employees to participate in “Harnessing Happiness” programs, commonly referred to as “Onionhead.”
- Those employed by the defendants were required to light candles, pray and discuss personal matters with co-workers and management.
- Among other practices, employers were required to say “I love you” as a general practice in the workplace.
- Onionhead practices were observed throughout the day and at special meetings held each week. Pins, desk ornamentation, and other paraphernalia were required at workstations in support of the program.
- An Onionhead member visited the workplace once a month to discuss individual “divine plans,” “moral codes” and ways toward “enlightenment.”
- None of the required religious practices were related to work.
Workers who refused or objected to these practices were eventually terminated by the company.
Notes EEOC senior trial attorney Sunu P. Chandy, “While religious or spiritual practices may indeed provide comfort and community to many people, it is critical to be aware that federal law prohibits employers from coercing employees to take part in them.”
Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 protects employers subject to discrimination, including religious discrimination, in the workplace.
If you have questions about religious discrimination in your New York workplace, speak with an experienced labor law attorney in the city.