Religion at Work: The Perils of Requiring “Christian Only” Hires

By Eric B.Meyer

I’m a firm believer that discussing religion (or politics) at work is a recipe for disaster. On this blog; however, if it’s employment-related, then that’s how we roll.

And, after the jump, we roll into Oklahoma and discuss whether it’s ok for a lighting company to require that it’s employees be born-again Christians. (Hint: It’s not OK).

(If you’d rather read about the Oklahoma City Thunder and the NBA Finals, I understand).

Not Christian enough to be hired

We’ve discussed this before. Best to table those interview questions that relate to protected status.

And acting on those answers, well…

In a lawsuit, initiated last week (EEOC vs. Voss Electric Company), the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission alleges that an Oklahoma lighting company refused to hire a qualified applicant because he wasn’t Christian enough.

Specifically, the EEOC claims that the applicant was interrogated during his interview about his religious practices and beliefs, including being asked to identify every church he has attended over the past several years; where and when he was “saved,” and the circumstances that led up to it; and asking whether he “would have a problem” coming into work early to attend bible study before clocking-in.

The EEOC further claims that, throughout the interview, the employer expressed overt agitation and disapproval at the applicant’s responses to its religious line of questioning.

Ultimately, the employer informed the applicant that the majority of company employees are Southern Baptist, but that it wasn’t required that the applicant go to a Southern Baptist church — as long as he was a “born-again.” Still, the EEOC alleges that the applicant was passed over because of his religion (or lack thereof).

When can religion be used as a hiring consideration?

“Religious organizations” may choose to hire applicants of one particular religion over another. Under Title VII, a religious organization is one whose purpose and character are primarily religious, not primarily secular. Similarly, a “ministerial exception” bars Title VII claims by employees who serve in clergy roles.

Article Continues Below

A lighting-company exception? Not so much.

Indeed, under Title VII, employers may not refuse to hire an applicant simply because he does not share the employer’s religious beliefs, and conversely may not select one applicant over another based on a preference for employees of a particular religion.

Therefore, if the lighting company here based its hiring decision on the applicant’s religion, it violated the law.

Is there any room for religion in the workplace?

The law recognizes that private employers can choose to express their own religious beliefs or practices in the workplace. Heck, an employer may hold religious services or programs or includes prayer in business meetings.

However, Title VII requires that the employer accommodate an employee who asks to be excused for religious reasons, absent a showing of undue hardship. Similarly, an employer is required to excuse an employee from compulsory personal or professional development training that conflicts with the employee’s sincerely-held religious beliefs or practices, unless doing so would pose an undue hardship.

For more Questions and Answers on Religious Discrimination in the Workplace, check out this FAQ from the EEOC.

This was originally published on Eric B. Meyer’s blog, The Employer Handbook.

You know that scientist in the action movie who has all the right answers if only the government would just pay attention? Eric B. Meyer, Esq. gets companies HR-compliant before the action sequence. Serving clients nationwide, Eric is a Partner at FisherBroyles, LLP, which is the largest full-service, cloud-based law firm in the world, with approximately 210 attorneys in 21 offices nationwide. Eric is also a volunteer EEOC mediator, a paid private mediator, and publisher of The Employer Handbook (, which is pretty much the best employment law blog ever. That, and he's been quoted in the British tabloids. #Bucketlist.