Living Free in the Spirit of Christ

Free The Church


Legal Right to Marketplace Ministry

by Mike Tummillo, Workplace Chaplain

Your Town 4 Jesus website

Witness while you work

Have you ever wondered “Will I get into trouble for witnessing at work?” With full-time American workers spending an average of 8.3 hours a day on the job, many Christians see their job as a terrific venue for sharing their faith with a captive audience. Some Christians have faced opposition from employers for their witnessing efforts and their stories have served to hinder the witnessing efforts of many others.

Often company officials don’t understand their employees’ religious rights, and sometimes will wrongfully discipline them for activities that are entirely legal. Far too often, employers mistakenly treat religious speech like sexual harassment and create a “zero tolerance” policy for religion that is similar to policies for sexual harassment. Religious speech and sexual harassment are worlds apart, however. Religious speech enjoys both constitutional and statutory protections that have never been granted for sexual harassment.

Many Christians are under the impression that religion has no place in the workplace. True, some employees have even been terminated for exercising their right to religious expression and such stories have struck fear in the hearts of many others.

Title VII outlines the law as it pertains to sharing one’s faith. Google it and read it! Whether one is an employer or an employee, we can wisely, safely operate within the bounds of the law without fear or concern.

There’s a Faith @ Work movement taking place all across the nation right now. Let’s play within the rules and advance the Kingdom with wisdom and power as the Spirit leads, not with unbridled zeal.

What is permissible at work?

Too often, Christians are being told that religion has no place in the workplace. Oddly enough, most would never dare use that same standard with a Muslim employee.

Go figure.

Some Christian employees have even been terminated for exercising their right to religious expression. Here are a few examples:

A state university department supervisor faced disciplinary action for violating the university’s “harassment” policy. Human Resources personnel informed him that because he was a supervisor, he could never talk about religion to another employee. This interpretation of the law was incorrect.

An employee of a large retail establishment in Illinois frequently shared her faith with coworkers. Because this employee knew the laws regarding religious speech, she always made a point to ask her coworkers to tell her if they did not want to discuss religion. None of her colleagues ever complained to her, yet she was terminated for violating the store’s “harassment policy.”

The employer of a Florida man warned him to cease all voluntary religious discussions with coworkers. Employees who consistently violated the company’s profanity policy, however, were not disciplined.

As these people learned, one key to being an effective witness in the workplace is to understand exactly what your rights are. Some important questions to consider are:

  1. When does sharing your faith constitute harassment?
  2. Are there greater restrictions on religious expression for supervisors?
  3. Does it matter if you are witnessing to your company’s customers or to your coworkers?
  4. Do the laws vary depending on whether you are employed in the private sector or by the government?

Jesus said we should be wise as serpents and timid as doves. Too often, we function as though we’re skittish as cattle and dumb as sheep.

Religious Discussions with Coworkers

Title VII Civil Rights Act of 1964 provides general rules for all private workplaces employing fifteen or more people. It stipulates that a company that allows employees to engage in non-work related conversations, such as those about politics, family, sports or other such topics, may not prohibit voluntary religious discussions between employees EITHER. The water cooler and employee lunchroom are a type of public forum where citizens share ideas and interact at a variety of levels. In informal settings, such as break rooms or hallways, and at times when workers voluntarily interact about non-work issues, employees may discuss their religious views or voluntarily pray together. The same rules apply as would to any other private conversation.

Other employees may NOT stop religious exchanges simply because they overhear a religious conversation. For example, at a large retail store in Indiana, an employee and several coworkers met informally and as privately as possible each day for a brief word of prayer before clocking in for work. They asked God to bless their supervisors and colleagues and prayed for other needs. One day, company management asked the group to stop because another employee had been offended when she saw them quietly praying. The employee contacted Christian attorneys who informed store management that another worker’s offense at this quiet religious activity did not justify prohibiting it. If the workers had been discussing the previous night’s TV programming, no question would have been raised.

NEVERTHELESS, PERSECUTION WILL COME

Despite clear legal protections, Christian employees often face discipline for sharing their faith. Incredibly, some employers will allow non-Christian religious expression while forbid religious expression FROM CHRISTIANS. For example, an employee was disciplined for sharing his Christian perspective on suicide and salvation with a coworker who had just expressed his belief in reincarnation and stated that he was contemplating suicide. The Christian was fired for sharing the hope of life found in Jesus Christ and for pleading with his coworker not to commit suicide!

KNOW YOUR LIMITS

While Christian employees have broad rights to express their faith to coworkers, there are two legal limitations.

  1. An employee must not allow religious discussions to interfere with work. Stated differently, an employer has the right to insist on the employee’s full attention during working hours. As Christians, we should out-perform our coworkers anyway. A Christian employee should be careful not to create even the perception that religious discussions are interfering with job performance. Also, it is easier to prove that talking about religion is the reason for discipline if the employee has a good work reputation and a clean record as an excellent, dedicated employee. In one case, a Christian employee’s attorney was able to point to the employee’s glowing performance evaluations (copies of which he always kept at home) when management insisted the employee was not a victim of religious discrimination, but rather was being disciplined for poor work performance.
  2. If a coworker indicates directly or indirectly that she does not wish to discuss matters of religion, the Christian employee should immediately stop discussing it with her. If the Christian does not stop, he can be disciplined for harassment. This rule is legitimate. Think of this limitation in terms of “the shoe being on the other foot.” If a Christian works with a Satanist, that Christian worker has the right to prevent the Satanist from talking to him about occultist practices. This precaution does not mean, however, that every time someone who has asked you not to talk about religion walks into the room, your conversation with others must stop. But, you should be sure not to direct the religious conversation to the employee who has objected. Religious conversations at work should take place privately and voluntarily. In fact, it may be wise to take a conversation elsewhere when a person who has objected comes on the scene, since this type of person would be most likely to
    press the issue.

Pass this information on to anyone you know – Christian or not – who has a job or owns a company!

RELIGIOUS DISCUSSION WITH CUSTOMERS

There’s nothing to prevent Christians from discussing faith with coworkers during free time on the job, however, any employer—public or private—may restrict employee conversations with clients, patients or customers about religion. On the other hand, a business owner may also choose to PERMIT such religious conversations—and many do. The decision regarding religious conversations with clients rests with the private employer and NOT with the employee.

There was a recent case in which a California employer terminated an employee for engaging in a religious conversation with a client. The employee had inquired about a mutual acquaintance who happened to be a pastor. The client shared how the pastor encouraged her and her children to attend church and how excited she was to have her children learning about the Bible. A coworker reported this completely voluntary conversation to a supervisor, who fired the Christian. This termination was determined to be unlawful, because the Christian employee had never been instructed not to discuss religion with customers, and because it was the client who brought religion into the conversation.

Are YOU prone to discussing religion with customers? If you simply do not care what the rules are, be prepared to experience the potential dismissal from your job as well as time and expenses incurred when seeking legal assistance.

Free advice? Work within the system. Obey the laws of the land, pray for Divine appointments and be led by the Spirit. Your availability gives God the opportunity to do miracles every day.

If a coworker indicates directly or indirectly that he/she does not wish to discuss matters of religion, the Christian employee should immediately stop discussing it with that person. If the Christian does not stop, he can be disciplined for harassment.

This Title VII rule is legitimate. Think of this limitation in terms of “the shoe being on the other foot.” If a Christian works with a Satanist, that Christian worker has the right to prevent the Satanist from talking to him about occultist practices. This precaution does not mean, however, that every time someone who has asked you not to talk about religion walks into the room, your conversation with others must stop. But, you should be sure not to direct the religious conversation to the employee who has objected.

Religious conversations at work should take place privately and voluntarily. In fact, it may be wise to take a conversation elsewhere when a person who has objected comes on the scene, since this type of person would be most likely to press the issue.

If we ask for wisdom, God promises to give us liberal amounts of it. ASK! Then, use that wisdom in the workplace.

Bottom line: be led by the Holy Spirit and NOT the spirit of rebellion. Some Christians are looking for trouble; living for the drama as it were. As a Christian employee, be known for your stellar character and high work ethic, NOT as a time-wasting Bible-thumper. It will open many more doors for you overall.

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