By Rights... Answers to Your Human Rights Questions

Column 20

In this column:

  • Are Prayer Sessions Permissible in the Workplace?
  • What Can I Do about a Rude Co-Worker?

Are Prayer Sessions Permissible in the Workplace?

Is it ever allowable to ask employees to participate in "prayer sessions" or bible study in the workplace or allow an employee to paste her religious paraphernalia all over the place? Don't we all have a right to go to work and not be subjected to someone else's opinions on the matter of religion?

The Commissioner says:

If an employee is required to attend -- or coerced into attending -- prayer sessions or any other religious activity, there would be a potential violation of the Minnesota Human Rights Act. The Act prohibits discrimination based on religion. If an employee's religion or choice of how to practice it does not agree with the employer's religious views, and the employee suffers adverse consequences as a result, there is the potential for a charge of discrimination.

The issue of whether someone in the workplace should be "subjected to someone else's opinions on the matter of religion" is a bit more complicated. On the one hand, the duty to not discriminate on the basis of religion can include a duty to accommodate an employee's religious practices. An employer may be required under the Act to allow employees to pray during break times, for example, if their religion requires that they pray at certain times. Also, if an employer allows employees to put personal items in their own work spaces, the employer cannot prohibit employees from having religious items in those same work spaces.

While it is conceivable that one employee's religious practices or opinions might make other employees with different beliefs uncomfortable, there is no "right" under the Human Rights Act to hear only opinions that one likes, or to work only with those whose beliefs are the same as yours. Yet, if an employee is proselytizing other employees to the point of harassing them, the employer would have a duty to intervene and stop the unwelcome proselytizing -- religious harassment is no more acceptable than sexual harassment.

What Can I Do about a Rude Co-Worker?

I have a co-worker who is very rude to everyone. He treats me with no respect and won't even talk with me in a civil manner. I have complained about him several times to the owner, who is also my supervisor, but the owner has done nothing about it. Is there anything I can do? What are my rights as a co-worker who is being harassed?

The Commissioner says:

If your co-worker was treating you rudely because of your gender (or age, or another "protected characteristic") there could be a potential violation of the state Human Rights Act. If the "harassment" you have experienced was sexual in nature, there could also be a violation of the Act. However, if your co-worker is just rude -- and equally rude to everyone -- your employer is probably violating no law by tolerating this behavior. Unless you can persuade your employer to encourage this individual to behave more professionally, your only option may be to seek employment elsewhere, at an organization where co-workers are expected to treat each other with more respect.

The answers in these columns are not intended as legal advice. The Department of Human Rights does not make a judgment on any case without carefully examining all the facts.

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