HR Hotline: How Do We Handle Religious Expression in the Workplace?
Q: Does a new employee have the right to hang a Mezuzah on the doorpost of his office? We feel it is inconsistent with the general office decor, but considering that it’s a religious symbol, we’re not sure where the boundaries are. What should we tell him?
A: It would be unwise, unrealistic, and likely illegal for an employer to try to suppress all religious expression in the workplace.
Title VII of the federal Civil Rights Act requires that employers accommodate an employee’s sincerely held religious belief in engaging in religious expression in the workplace to the extent that they can do so without inflicting undue hardship on business operations.
The Mezuzah, a small parchment scroll containing a Jewish prayer, is generally rolled up and inserted into a small case, which is then affixed to a doorpost.
It is a common ritual among observant Jews to touch the Mezuzah with their hand when entering or leaving a building or room and then kiss the hand as a reminder of their faith and to perform good deeds as they go about their daily tasks.
The Mezuzah is also believed to be a symbol of God’s watchful care over the “house” and its dwellers, protecting against all the surrounding dangers of daily life. Observant Jews feel this serves as a regular reminder of the spirituality and security of their faith.
Although Title VII does not confer absolute freedom of expression on employees merely because an expression or demonstration of faith is religiously motivated, it is highly unlikely that a small item such as a Mezuzah, unobtrusively mounted on a doorpost to a personal workspace, even if visible to coworkers, customers, or the public, could interfere with business operations.
By way of contrast, depending on which part of Connecticut you’re in, hanging a sports jersey of one’s favorite baseball or football team might trigger greater hostility or disruption than a Mezuzah.
For many of us, our workplaces are our second homes, where we spend most of our waking hours, so the workplace may be viewed by some as a location in which it is proper that faith-based principles should guide conduct.
Reflecting on the underlying message of the Mezuzah, we could all use an occasional reminder to perform good deeds as we do our jobs and more consciously cultivate a workplace culture of respect and security, regardless of one’s faith.
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