Can our employer require us to meditate?

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Question:

The owner of our company is really into yoga, meditation, and other Eastern spiritual practices. He likes to talk about his beliefs, and he frequently puts up notices of special events at his ashram. Recently, he has started asking employees to chant and participate in other exercises to "clear our heads and open our minds" at the beginning of meetings. I'm Catholic, and some of the things he is asking us to do don't sit well with my religious beliefs. Can he require us to follow his spiritual path? 

Answer:

No, your employer may not require employees to practice his religion or adopt his spiritual beliefs. Title VII, the primary federal law that outlaws employment discrimination, prohibits employers from discriminating on the basis of religion. Under Title VII, employers may not make decisions based on an employee's religion, such as refusing to hire any Jews or promoting only Mormons. Title VII also protects atheists: For example, an employer who refused to hire anyone who was not religious would violate Title VII, even if that employer hired employees of all organized religions. 

Title VII also requires employers to accommodate an employee's religious beliefs and practices, as long as doing so wouldn't create undue hardship. Among the accommodations an employee might request are scheduling changes, exceptions to dress or grooming requirements, or breaks during the day to pray. 

Title VII does not prohibit employers from expressing their own religious beliefs. Your employer's practice of discussing his religion and inviting employees to attend events does not violate Title VII. An employer may even incorporate religious expression, such as prayer or chanting, into meetings. However, your employer must excuse any employee who asks not to attend for religious reasons. This might include employees who, like you, hold religious beliefs that conflict with those of your boss. Or, it might include employees who are not religious and object to being asked to engage in religious practices. 

Unless excusing you would pose an undue hardship for the company, you do not have to attend. The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC), the federal agency that enforces Title VII, has said that it should rarely be an undue hardship to let employees out of religious requirements like these. Your boss could, for example, allow you to arrive at the meeting once everyone has finished their chanting. Talk to your boss and explain that your religious beliefs preclude you from participating in the chanting and meditation. He should allow you to skip it. If not, take the issue to your company's personnel or human resources department. If nothing else works, you might consider going to the EEOC or your state's fair employment practices agency and filing a charge of discrimination.  

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