Jottings By An Employer's Lawyer

Wednesday, December 23, 2009

Weighing In On Religion in the Workplace

Although Iowa's turn in the political sun won't roll around for at least another 18 months or so, there's an interesting post from Patrick Smith at the Iowa Employment Law Blog, Are Employee Religious Freedoms in Jeopardy? 

The jumping off point for his comment was a guest column in the Des Moines Register by Lake Lambert III, Professor of Religion at Wartburg College, in Waverly, Iowa. Dr. Lambert is advocating for the Workplace Religious Freedom Act. As the article notes, the Act has been kicking around for quite awhile, notwithstanding support on both sides of the aisle. Although it occasionally gets a push, the fact that it has not made much progress I think speaks volumes to the potential problems. Smith thinks the bill cuts too broadly and points out some of the issues:
In a country with so many different religious practices, however, an expanded duty to accommodate them all could create more problems than it solves.  What happens when the practices of different religions conflict?  What about situations where an employer's legitimate interest in safety or uniformity impacts an employee's desire to wear religious clothing or articles?  Under existing law, employers have more  flexibility to address these situations in the context of legitimate business needs.  The proposed RWFA tips the balance too far the other way.
I couldn't agree more. 

Still it has been a few years since I have written about it. My first post was in  2003 and things had not changed much when I wrote in 2005, Workplace Religious Freedom Act - Consensus On Neither the Right Nor Left.  It is not unheard of for legislation to languish year after year, only to make it to the forefront. The ADA and FMLA are two examples of statutes that were introduced in a number of Congresses before becoming law, ENDA (protection for sexual preference and more) may be the next.

And who knows, even though it doesn't seem to be making much progress, the Workplace Religious Freedom Act doesn't show any signs of going away either.

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