HR Quick Take: Religious Decorations in the Workplace

Dentons Davis Brown
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Q: Two of my employees are in conflict over one’s display of a star of David in her workspace. Hannah is Jewish. Like many employees, she displays some personal items in her workspace; she has a small Star of David sculpture. Another employee, Joe, complained to me that it was a pentagram and he was concerned Sarah was casting spells on him. Can I tell Joe that Sarah is Jewish, tell him to read up on the difference between a Star of David and a pentagram, and get this matter off my desk?

A: This question is an interesting one and certainly presents the lower end of religious accommodation and conflicts. There is no indication that either employee supervises the other or that their religious beliefs are in any kind of direct conflict. This seems more like a problem of misperception.

Ideally, you would first speak with Hannah and explain to her that some people were not aware of the Star of David and asking if it would be okay to explain to them that the Star of David represents Jewish religion and culture and that she is, in fact, Jewish. It is important to make sure that you have an employee’s permission prior to discussing their religion with other employees.

Perhaps more importantly in this instance, however, is what are you going to do if you, in fact, have a Wicca practitioner or other earth-based religion that uses a pentacle or pentagram as part of their religion’s beliefs? If you allow crosses, Stars of David, a Buddha, prayers, or any other small symbols of people/s religions in the workplace you would also be required to allow pentagrams, pentacles, and similar representations.

Respect for religion means respect for everyone’s religion and spiritual beliefs so long as those actions are not impeding the workforce or creating some form of safety hazard. There are certain positions such as police officer or firefighter where courts have determined that display of religious items is not appropriate as it could give the impression that a person of one religion might be favored over another. This can also be true in some supervisory settings. However, this does not appear to be a circumstance of that type. 

DISCLAIMER: Because of the generality of this update, the information provided herein may not be applicable in all situations and should not be acted upon without specific legal advice based on particular situations.

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