religion-work.jpgThere is freedom of religion in the U.S. workplace, but preaching in the office or at the plant can end up making you a career martyr.

A NASA computer specialists is going to court this week claiming he was unjustly fired because of his belief in a higher power.

But, his employer is claiming he was canned because he harassed his coworkers about his convictions, even handing out intelligent design DVDs.

Employers sometimes frown on outward displays of religion even as some employees demand their right to express themselves. The laws aren’t always clearly defined, but wearing your religion on your sleeve in a largely secular American workplace could hinder your career.

Remember the Home Depot employee who got fired for wearing a “god” button a few years ago?

Employers are required to provide “reasonable accommodation for the religious practices and beliefs of employees” under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964. But the question is, what exactly is reasonable?

“It depends on the nature of an employer’s business, the impact on their business” and whether religious expression creates an undue hardship on the company, said Leslie Silverman, a lawyer at Proskauer Rose in Washington and former vice chair of the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission. It also can be a problem if one person’s religious expression is perceived as harassment of another employee.

Employers would have a hard time making a case against religious garb such as hijabs, yarmulkes or turbans because “it’s hard for an employer to suggest having an employee wear that is an undue hardship,” Silverman said.

120311-space-coppedge-930pgrid-6x2.jpgThe NASA specialist, David Coppedge, wanted more than to dress a certain way.

This from the Associated Press:

Coppedge, who worked as a team lead on the Cassini mission exploring Saturn and its many moons, claims he was discriminated against because he engaged his co-workers in conversations about intelligent design and handed out DVDs on the idea while at work.

Intelligent design is the belief that a higher power must have had a hand in creation because life is too complex to have developed through evolution alone.

Coppedge lost his team lead title in 2009 and was let go last year after 15 years on the mission.

His employer claims he was harassing coworkers, and he also had ongoing conflicts with the people he worked with.

Balancing religious freedom in the workplace can be a “thorny” issue, agreed Eric Peterson, Diversity & Inclusion Manager at Society for Human Resource Management, who believes the goal should be to be as inclusive as possible.

But proselytizing, or trying to convert others to your faith, is a workplace no-no, he said.

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