ON-SITE PRAYER MEETINGS
EEOC just reminded us of the right of employees to demand on-site agency space to hold prayer meetings. A postal employee, who was known to be a Christian asked for some private space during the day to pray alone or with other. Postal Service management said no. They noted that there was a rule in place that barred employees from even talking about religion during the workday. So, the employee filed a complaint of religious discrimination.
Had the local manager read the material on the EEOC web site s/he would have run into the following statement: If an employee needs to use a workplace facility as a reasonable accommodation, e.g., use of a quiet area for prayer during break time, the employer should accommodate the request under Title VII unless it would pose an undue hardship. EEOC Compliance Manual Section 12, “Religious Discrimination” No. 915.863 (Jan. 15, 2021) (Religious Discrimination Compliance Manual).
The employee easily met the prima facie test for discrimination based on religious accommodation that requires an employee to demonstrate: (1) she has a bona fide religious belief, the practice of which conflicted with his employment; (2) she informed the agency of this belief and conflict; and (3) the agency nevertheless enforced its requirement against the employee.
The agency’s defense was its rule against on-site religious discussions. But EEOC wrote,
We understand the Agency’s desire to keep the workplace free from conflicts that may arise out of sensitive topics such as religion and politics; however, the Agency presented no argument that Complainant’s use of the empty room for prayer posed an undue hardship.
So, the employee got his room as well as the right to file for compensatory damages. Check out Vernie M., v. Louis DeJoy, Postmaster General, EEOC Appeal No. 2020004103. But don’t overread this decision. It did not overturn the agency rule prohibiting conversations about religion in the workplace nor did it order the agency to empty a room so the employee could pray.