Archive | July, 2014

EEOC Files Suit On Behalf Of Employees Claiming They Were Forced To Participate In Religious Activities At Work

EEOC_religionThe EEOC recently filed suit on behalf of three (3) former employees against a New York company claiming that the employees were forced to participate in religious activities at work and were fired if they refused. It is alleged that the company required the employees to pray, thank God for their jobs, and tell their managers and colleagues “I love you”. The company followed a belief system called “Onionhead” which was a doctrine created by a family member of the company’s owner. In addition, there were group prayers, candle burning, and discussion of spiritual texts in the workplace. Employees were also told to wear Onionhead buttons. It is alleged that none of these practices were work-related. It is further alleged that one employee told management that she was Catholic and did not want to participate in the Onionhead practices. That employee’s office was then relocated and a large statue of Buddha was placed in her former office. After she protested, she was then fired. The EEOC has filed suit on behalf of these employees seeking back pay with interest and unspecified damages. In addition, the EEOC is also seeking an injunction against the company relative to their religious requirements. Through this suit, the EEOC is contending that employers are not permitted to dictate the religious aspects of their employees’ lives and that work pressure to conform to the employer’s spiritual or religious practices violates federal employment law.

Without question, this case poses rather extreme facts but nonetheless it is a reminder to employers that they should not require or pressure their employees to conform to a particular religion or to require religious activity in the workplace, especially in the absence of a bona fide work related reason.

Possible Upcoming Changes to The FMLA


The US Department of Labor has announced a Notice of Proposed Rulemaking (“NPRM”) to revise the definition of spouse under the Family Medical Leave Act of 1993 (“FMLA”).  The NPRM proposes to amend the definition of spouse so that eligible employees in legal same sex marriages will be able to take FMLA leave to care for their spouse or family member regardless of where they live.  This amendment arises from the United States Supreme Court’s decision in United States v. Windsor which found Section 3 of the Defense of Marriage Activity to be unconstitutional.

The Department proposes to amend the definition of spouse in the FMLA as follows:  “Spouse, as defined in the statute, means a husband or wife. For purposes of this definition, husband or wife refers to the other person with whom an individual entered into marriage as defined or recognized under State law for purposes of marriage in the State in which the marriage was entered into or, in the case of a marriage entered into outside of any State, if the marriage is valid in the place where entered into and could have been entered into in at least one State. This definition includes an individual in a same-sex or common law marriage that either (1) was entered into in a State that recognizes such marriages or, (2) if entered into outside of any State, is valid in the place where entered into and could have been entered into in at least one State.”

Please note, this change is not yet final.  Although the Office of Budget and Management has approved and reviewed the NPRM as of the date of this information, the document has not yet been published in the Federal Register.

The impact of this change would mean that eligible employees, regardless of where they live, would be able to:

  • Take FMLA leave to care for their same sex spouse with a serious health condition;
  • Take qualifying exigency leave due to their same sex spouse’s covered military service;
  • Take military caregiver leave for their same sex spouse.

In addition, the proposed change could also entitle eligible employees to take FMLA leave to care for their step-child (the child of the employee’s same sex spouse) or step-parent (same sex spouse of the employee’s parent) even if the in loco parentis requirement is not met.

Stay tuned as further information becomes available as this is a possible change that could affect many employers.